In 2011 Kansans loudly objected when Gov. Sam Brownback said the arts were not a core service deserving of public dollars, prompting the Legislature to intervene. Now, Kansas lawmakers must do better than the $200,000 that the governor proposes for the arts for each of the next two years – a $500,000 cut from the current year.
Not that the state’s new approach to supporting the arts is working as intended. As the advocacy group Kansas Citizens for the Arts noted earlier this month: “The new Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission is not doing enough to support the arts in Kansas. No funds have been granted yet, with the funding year almost half over, and the proposed programs are not what artists and arts organizations have said they need.”
The new commission is taking applications for two new programs, the Creative Economy Project Support and Creative Arts Industry Incentives, and its focus on creating jobs and building public-private partnerships may be well-intended. But it isn’t what Kansans could count on from the now-defunct Kansas Arts Commission, which had 45 years of experience in seeding and strengthening local arts and cultural activities.
The new commission, which is housed in the Kansas Department of Commerce, only held its first meeting in January, and there has been confusion about who answers to whom. With the commission so slow to get its act together, the state still seems far from being able to restore the $1.2 million in annual funding Kansas once received from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Mid-America Arts Alliance.
Meanwhile, the private organization that Brownback touted as the successor to a state arts agency, the Kansas Arts Foundation, hasn’t had much of an impact. Last week it announced its first three grants totaling just $6,500, which included a welcome $2,500 for Wichita Children’s Theatre and Dance Center.
But as bad as things are, they will be worse if the governor succeeds in cutting funding for the new commission from $700,000 to $200,000, given that $150,000 in the current budget year reportedly is going for administrative costs.
Lawmakers can hear from advocates and other arts-loving Kansans during Arts Day at the Capitol on Thursday, and should heed their reports about what the loss of state support has meant for arts organizations and communities.
Those who contacted their legislators two years ago to voice their support for the arts need to do so again, especially because the 2013 Legislature contains so many new members who may not have heard the message yet.
The damage of the governor’s assault on the arts is far from undone, and would only worsen under his budget proposal.