Politics & Government

Wichita wants to gauge local support for the arts

Elon Ferguson takes a selphie with his wife Shaye and their children at the Reed Family Elephants of the Zambezi River Valley at the Sedgwick County Zoo in May. According to a national survey, going to a zoo is among the most popular arts experiences Americans partake in.
Elon Ferguson takes a selphie with his wife Shaye and their children at the Reed Family Elephants of the Zambezi River Valley at the Sedgwick County Zoo in May. According to a national survey, going to a zoo is among the most popular arts experiences Americans partake in. The Wichita Eagle

The city of Wichita might soon ask you if you’re into art.

On Tuesday, the City Council received a presentation on a national survey that gauged public interest in the arts and support for using government funding to pay for it.

Randy Cohen of Americans for the Arts said the survey showed 77 percent of Americans experienced the arts through their community, that two-thirds attended an art experience in the past year and that nearly six out of 10 support government funding for the arts.

The survey also showed that half of Americans make art themselves.

Mayor Jeff Longwell and former council member Sharon Fearey, now a member of the Wichita Arts Council, said they’d like to ask the same questions of Wichitans to gauge their support for public art.

“We’d love to see you try to localize that,” Longwell told Cohen. “We brag about our cultural opportunities in Wichita for a city of our size. We remind people that we often train New York opera singers in Wichita, Kan.

“We’re fortunate. We have a community that embraces the arts I think at a different level than maybe some of the communities you’re seeing around the country.”

More than museums

Nationally, the most popular arts experience was going to a zoo, aquarium or botanical garden, which 36 percent of the 3,020 people surveyed said they did.

Thirty percent reported they went to a historical park, 29 percent to a concert and about a fourth of respondents said they went to either a science/childrens’ museum, a theatrical performance or an art museum.

While 58 percent of survey respondents supported the general concept of government support of the arts, those numbers rose to the 70 percent range for specified programs such as art in parks and public spaces and to beautify blighted areas.

We brag about our cultural opportunities in Wichita for a city of our size.

Jeff Longwell, Wichita mayor

Support was equally strong for specialized arts programs for the elderly, at-risk youth and veterans transitioning from military to civilian life, Cohen said.

The survey comes at a time when the Kansas arts community is facing continued fallout from reduced arts funding at the state level.

This year, Kansas has allocated $191,000 to the arts, too small an effort to qualify for $800,000 in matching grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and regional arts organizations.

Funding cut in 2011

In 2011, Gov. Sam Brownback and the Legislature cut arts funding and eliminated the Kansas Arts Council.

Brownback replaced it with a Creative Arts Industries Commission whose primary task is to encourage business development within the creative industries.

“Kansas is the only state that has been able to do that and left hundreds of thousands of dollars of National Endowment for the Arts funding back in Washington,” Cohen said.

Fearey said it would be particularly helpful to the arts going forward if the city can develop local data on support for the arts “when our state has this bad stuff going on.”

Dion Lefler: 316-268-6527, @DionKansas

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