Eagle editorial: Advocate for arts funding

A year after it was created, the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission at last is awarding grants. But the damage of Gov. Sam Brownback’s 2011 defunding of the arts is unrepaired – and unforgiven by the state’s arts supporters. And in Wichita there are new worries about another proposed cut in the city’s cultural arts funding.

The $58,400 in state grants ready for announcement will do some great things, including upgrading the sound system for Chamber Music at the Barn, enabling wheelchair access at the Fisch Haus gallery, and funding a performance and living space for resident artists at the Bartlett Arboretum. What a positive difference those investments will make for those organizations and their patrons.

But the 2012 Legislature appropriated $700,000 to the new commission with the intention that it benefit the arts right away. Instead, it largely went unspent, with commissioners rarely meeting and the new office within the Department of Commerce focused on planning. State officials now seem to hope the leftover $400,000, combined with the latest $200,000 appropriation, will be enough to persuade the National Endowment for the Arts that the elimination of the Kansas Arts Commission was only temporary insanity, and that the state’s renewed commitment to culture is sufficient to merit federal matching dollars. If so, that would be outstanding news for Kansas.

What’s less clear is whether a commission with “industries” in its name and economic development as its focus will have much to offer the artists and organizations that did so much with the small grants they got from the KAC over its fruitful and professional 45 years in existence. While the new KCAIC is stepping up to help what would seem to be arts institutions’ bricks-and-mortar and technological needs, who or what will fill the funding void created by the KAC’s absence? So far the answer doesn’t seem to be the $100 arts license plate program, which hasn’t even reached the 500 orders necessary to go forward.

Meanwhile, the “items presented for policy discussion” at a recent city of Wichita budget presentation included a 3 percent cut in the city’s $4.1 million cultural arts funding for 2014, a proposal related to a newly projected decline in property valuations. Such a reduction would compound the effect of the current year’s 4 percent cut in the funding that supported 26 organizations. But at Tuesday’s meeting, the City Council will consider an updated cultural plan that, in addition to clarifying the city’s agreements with groups that have city-owned facilities, would allow for expansion of funding for emerging and developing arts organizations as well as individual artists.

When government budgets are under stress, the arts always seem to be targeted. Those Kansans who fought for arts funding at the state level need to continue the advocacy, as Wichitans also make sure the city’s commitment to cultural funding stays strong.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman