A state commission appointed by the governor is criticizing him over one of his budget-cutting proposals. Kansas Arts Commission leaders say Gov. Sam Brownback's proposal to eliminate the agency — and possibly save the state $574,000 in the next fiscal year — will cost Kansas an additional $778,300 in funds from the National Endowment for the Arts plus $437,767 in partnership money from the Mid-America Arts Alliance.
That loss will then ripple through the state economy, causing more substantial losses, Kansas Arts Commission executive director Llewellyn Crain said Wednesday.
Jobs will be lost, she said. Tax revenue will be lost. And companies, including Wichita's aircraft companies, will find it harder to recruit good employees once the economy rebounds, she said, because people want to go to cities and states that encourage rather than diminish art and places to enjoy it.
Brownback's budget proposal would have the Kansas Arts Commission become a nonprofit corporation seeking private support. It would give the commission $200,000 next fiscal year to make the transition and then stop all funding.
Brownback's budget report said that because of demands on the state general fund, the state can no longer fund the commission. The state is facing a $550 million budget shortfall for the next fiscal year.
The state said making the arts commission a nonprofit "will encourage the organization in maximizing its fee and private sector revenue, as well as increase the organization's commitment to seeking all available federal and foundation funds."
The commission supports the arts by giving money, mostly in small amounts, to organizations all over the state. Some communities, such as Wichita, strongly support the arts, Crain said. Many others don't, or can't, and the Kansas Arts Commission provides help to make sure "that any community that wants it can have an arts presence."
The grants are used for, among other things, museum exhibits and fine-arts performances in schools or smaller communities. The commission also sponsors the Governor's Arts Awards, which honor those who have made contributions to the arts and culture in Kansas.
The arts commission began critiquing the proposal last week, soon after Brownback suggested it as part of a way to cut the huge state budget deficit. In addition to releasing a statement pointing out how much this would cost in matching funds, arts supporters gathered for breakfast with legislators to make their case.
The purpose of all this, Crain said, is to make a respectful and factual — but forceful — case that how Brownback's proposal "is not wise, and is not good business for the state of Kansas."
The commission says the state's nonprofit arts and cultural sector is a $153.5 million industry, supporting more than 4,000 full-time equivalent jobs and generating more than $15 million in state and local government tax revenues.
"We know that the governor and the Legislature have a very difficult task in balancing the budget," Crain said. "But Kansas needs its arts organizations not only to exist but to thrive.
"They bring in tax revenue, they bring in tourists, they provide jobs, and they help Kansas businesses stay competitive in what's becoming a much more competitive government marketplace."
At first glance, it might not seem like losing the Kansas Arts Commission would be noticeable in Sedgwick County and Wichita. Last year the commission gave $114,362 to Sedgwick County, spread out in small portions and grants to many arts organizations.
The Wichita Art Museum, one of Wichita's main arts attractions, got $5,446; other money in small amounts went to the Kansas African American Museum, the Wichita Center for the Arts, to the Orpheum Theatre , the Wichita Symphony, the opera, the ballet, and more.
The benefit to those organizations is much bigger than the dollar numbers appear on paper, said Dave Unruh, a Sedgwick County Commissioner and past board member for the art museum.
"A lot of that money goes to pay operating costs, to keep the lights on and keep copy machines running," Unruh said. "So believe me, if this goes through, there are going to be managers in a lot of organizations in Sedgwick County who are going to have to work very hard to figure out where to find the operating money they will lose."
They won't get any help from the Sedgwick County commission, which has sometimes helped out its local attractions, he said. The county can't afford it.