Wichita allocates $3 million in cultural arts funding to 26 organizations

Each year when Wichita’s Cultural Funding Committee makes budget recommendations, there are hard choices.

This year was harder still, said Steve Peters, the committee’s chairman.

“Every year has its own challenges and opportunities,” Peters said. “It was a challenging year, challenging to take all those applications requesting thousands more than we had to offer and winnow it down.

“But it gave us an opportunity to have some substantive conversations about the quality of applications we received and how we can help organizations strengthen their applications for the future.”

The city has roughly $3.1 million to spend on local arts and cultural groups. On Tuesday, the Wichita City Council approved the recommended proposal for funding 26 organizations.

Knowing the Wichita city budget was tight, Peters said, the Cultural Funding Committee voluntarily agreed cut the funding by 4 percent — or $126,000. It left about $3 million to distribute among 26 organizations, with the five major museums with ties or operating agreements with the city receiving the bulk of the money: the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum, the Wichita Art Museum, the Mid-America All-Indian Center, Botanica and Old Cowtown Museum.

Of those five museums, only Cowtown does not have an operating agreement because it is under the management of the Division of Arts and Cultural Services. It is still held to the same criteria and standards as the other four museums.

Each of the five is considered a Group One organization and is expected to receive about the same funding next year as in 2012. In order to receive the funding, the museums agree to demonstrate financial growth; maintain a three- to six-month operating reserve; develop improvement funds; and have city representatives on their boards.

Last month, the city of Wichita initially proposed cutting Old Cowtown Museum’s funding by $100,000 for next year. The proposed cut came from money the city has traditionally set aside to help subsidize the historic museum, according to David Flask, director of Old Cowtown. After protests, the City Council agreed to lessen that cut to $50,000.

“We appreciate the support the Cultural Funding Committee gives to the cultural organizations they are able to fund,” Flask said. “It makes a huge difference.

“But with the $50,000 cut now in our budget, we will have to now reassess how we do things. Without the cultural arts funding, it would be impossible.”

Once the five major museums received their cultural arts allocations, that left $492,657 to be distributed among the roughly 20 other organizations that applied for cultural funding, said John D’Angelo, director of the city’s Arts and Culture Department.

“We had fewer dollars to distribute than last year,” D’Angelo said. “One of the continuing struggles we always face is how do help some of the smaller emerging groups, especially when it is so hard for them to be competitive with groups such as the Wichita Symphony or Music Theatre.”

Groups that did not receive funding included the Heart of America’s Men’s Chorus, Music Theatre for Young People and the Griot’s Storytelling Institute.

To receive funding, groups are asked to write requests for taxpayer money, which are evaluated by the committee. Each request is scored on several criteria. In order to receive city funding, a group has to score 75 points or higher, D’Angelo said.

“In a time when budgets are incredibly tight, I think we probably are fortunate to still have the support of the council,” said Lon Smith, director of the Kansas Aviation Museum.

This past year, the Kansas Aviation Museum received nearly $42,000 from cultural arts fund; in 2013, it is recommended to receive $25,000.

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