Brownback nixes state arts panel

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback signed an executive order Monday abolishing the state Arts Commission and replacing it with a private, nonprofit organization.

Three Wichitans were named to the board of directors of the new organization: Wichita City Council member Sue Schlapp, Paula Downing and Priscilla O'Shaughnessy.

Brownback said the reorganization will save the cash-strapped state nearly $600,000 a year, but it has upset some arts advocates who worry about eroding support for the arts and art education.

"Our state faces a nearly $500 million budget shortfall," Brownback, a Republican, said before signing the order. "Let's do all we can to protect the core functions of government."

The Arts Commission funnels state and federal arts grants to local organizations, artists and art education programs.

Starting July 1, the nonprofit Arts Foundation will seek private funds. Brownback said that may make it more successful than its public predecessor.

Kansas is the second state to create a nonprofit to oversee arts funding. Vermont created one earlier.

Schlapp said the Foundation could serve as a model for the rest of the country.

"I feel the rest of country will be looking to us and saying, 'That's the way to do it. Let's to do it the same way,' " she said.

Brownback wants Kansas to spend $200,000 next year to assist the foundation, and he said additional funding in future years is a possibility. He appointed nine Kansans to lead the foundation; one is Kerry Livgren of the musical group Kansas.

The executive order takes effect July 1, unless lawmakers vote to overturn it within 60 days. Arts Commission Chairman Henry Schwaller said he's already discussed that possibility with legislators.

Schwaller worries the new foundation won't be eligible for federal funding and that private donors are unlikely to make up the difference.

"We understand there's a $500 million deficit," Schwaller said. "But our funding is so small — only 29 cents per capita per year — that cutting this is not going to make a sizeable dent."

Schlapp said the reorganization won't cost any grant money. That money, which must go through a state agency, now will go through the historical society, she said.

"There's been some worry they would lose their ability to have those funds, and we don't believe that will be the case," Schlapp said.

"We think it will be better, because often when government does something, the private sector lets the government do it.

"It seems often when government gets out of the way the private sector steps up.

"We believe it will be bigger and better than ever."

Raising money from the private sector will be a challenge, Schlapp said, but not an insurmountable one.

"We feel we'll be doing that effectively," she said.

Others named to the Foundation board were Bruce Breckenridge of Leawood, Livgren of Berryton, Virginia Crossland-Macha of Iola, Bob Swain of Topeka, Linda Browning Weiss of Manhattan and Chris Burger of Lawrence.