Though Gov. Sam Brownback has said his priority is “jobs, jobs, jobs,” he alone bears the responsibility for five lost jobs today as the Kansas Arts Commission’s funding runs out.
Bucking the Legislature, Brownback recently defunded the tiny 45-yearold state agency via line-item veto, laid off its employees and, in the process, unilaterally made Kansas the first state in the nation to eliminate public funding for the arts.
His administration also has taken troubling steps to silence critics, ordering the shutdown of the commission’s Facebook page and Twitter account, removing references to the funding struggle from the commission website, and replacing Henry Schwaller, a Hays real-estate investor who had been vocal in opposing Brownback’s actions, as commission chairman.
In an online interview this week with ArtInfo.com , Schwaller said: “I believe very strongly that there is an incredible misunderstanding in the governor’s office — and in the governor’s mind — of what the arts mean for Kansas.”
It took serving on the Arts Commission to change the mind of Colby resident Lon Frahm, who told the Lawrence Journal-World that he once might have agreed with Brownback’s philosophy that the arts should not be funded with public dollars. But “I’ve never seen an agency that did so much with so little money, and made such a big difference in people’s lives,” said Frahm, speaking out after quitting the commission this month.
He also said: “Wealthy people in Lawrence and elsewhere will always have the arts, but places like Oakley and Hoxie will probably never get back what they had with the little bit of guidance and small amount of money that the Arts Commission provided.”
Brownback’s appointment to chair the 12-member commission is Linda Browning Weis, also his choice to lead the new private nonprofit Kansas Arts Foundation. Weis is a Manhattan real-estate broker who contributed $2,100 to Brownback’s campaign last year. She canceled a Lawrence meeting Schwaller had called for June 16 and will preside over the next meeting in early July.
But because the commission exists statutorily but has no state funding, questions abound about the way forward.
To his credit, Brownback said he would donate part of his unspent inaugural funds to the Arts Foundation. But his line-item veto of the $689,000 appropriation meant that neither the commission nor the foundation has the benefit of the $200,000 in transitional state funding the governor originally proposed.
In an Associated Press interview, Weis tried to dispel concerns that the state will lose $1.2 million in National Endowment for the Arts and Mid-America Arts Alliance funding, or that the new private effort may struggle.
“We will find the money,” she said. “We will raise the money.”
Brownback had better see that they do, perhaps by tapping enough of his wealthy political donors to get the private fundraising effort off the ground. As it is, he’s ticked off a sizable number of Republican arts patrons otherwise supportive of his ambitious plans for Kansas, and triggered far-reaching headlines about the state’s official new lack of appreciation for the arts.