Kansas to merge arts, film groups; arts funding uncertain

– While Kansas plans to overhaul its arts agency this summer to focus it on generating new jobs, state funding for arts programs remained uncertain as legislators continued discussing budget issues Saturday.

Republican Gov. Sam Brownback signed a bill Thursday to merge the Arts and Film Services Commission into a new Creative Arts Industries Commission in the state Department of Commerce. But his proposed $14.1 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 included only $200,000 for the new commission, and he hasn’t said whether he’ll approve more money than he originally proposed.

Last year, the governor vetoed all state dollars for the Arts Commission, making Kansas the only state to eliminate funding for arts programs.

Both chambers of the Republican-controlled Legislature have approved $700,000 for the new Creative Arts Industries Commission, but House and Senate budget negotiators who met Saturday hadn’t decided whether to give the Commerce Department the authority to transfer another $250,000 internally to the new group as senators had proposed.

Brownback argued last year that arts programs should rely more heavily on private dollars and that tax dollars should finance “core” government functions, such as public schools, social services and public safety. But his veto brought him national criticism, and it cost the state $1.3 million in funds from the federal government and a regional arts alliance.

Spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag said the governor’s views haven’t changed about shifting funding for arts programs to private dollars. She noted that the bill establishing the new commission also creates a check-off on individual income tax forms that will allow filers to contribute to arts programs.

Asked whether Brownback would approve more than $200,000 for the new commission, she said, “We’ll see what the Legislature decides.”

Sarah Carkhuff Fizell, a spokeswoman for Kansas Citizens for the Arts, said the bill merging the arts commission into the Commerce Department represents “a real collaboration” involving Brownback, legislators and arts advocates.

“We’re also hopeful that he can live with the funding,” she said. “That’s really the key piece.”

Last year, Brownback proposed eliminating the Arts Commission, replacing it with a private, nonprofit Kansas Arts Foundation and giving the foundation a state subsidy of $200,000. The foundation formed, but legislators rejected Brownback’s executive order eliminating the Arts Commission and appropriated $689,000 in state tax dollars for it.

Brownback vetoed the budget line with the money and another line authorizing the commission to keep its small staff. But his actions didn’t eliminate the 12-member commission itself, and Brownback’s appointees are now a majority. The Arts Commission has relied on help from other state agencies, private dollars and carry-over funds to continue operations. It also is selling special vehicle license plates to raise money.

The new Creative Arts Industries Commission will have 11 members, five appointed by the governor and six by legislative leaders. Brownback’s administration has said the new commission’s focus will be on economic development in film and the arts.

In debating budget issues in March, the House initially sided with Brownback in setting aside $200,000 for the new commission but ultimately agreed to a Senate proposal for $700,000.

Both chambers also have agreed to allow the new commission to hire three employees.