Arts transition

It’s hard for the Kansas Arts Commission to get back on its feet when so many key questions remain unanswered.

August 5, 2011


The transition to private financing of the Kansas Arts Commission doesn’t appear to be going very smoothly.

A meeting of the commission this week revealed a number of unresolved issues and a lack of transparency that is raising concerns among arts advocates and some arts commissioners.

To recap, Gov. Sam Brownback sought to abolish the Kansas Arts Commission and replace it with the Kansas Arts Foundation, which would raise private funds for arts in the state. Although legislators blocked his executive order abolishing the commission, Brownback used his line-item veto to remove all KAC funding from the current year’s budget. He also dismissed all of the commission’s staff.

The Kansas Arts Commission still exists, but it has no money and no staff to administer its program. Judging from last week’s meeting, it also appears that commission members have little idea how they will move forward.

First, there’s the funding. This week, new KAC Chairwoman Linda Browning Weis sent a letter (a letter that wasn’t shared with other commission members in advance) to the National Endowment for the Arts making the argument that KAC should remain qualified to receive federal arts grants. Obviously that question should have been answered definitively before funding for the KAC was deleted, but it was not. Kansas would be the only state to receive NEA funding even though the state government isn’t contributing any funding of its own. The Mid-America Arts Alliance, which distributes NEA funds, said all Kansas requests have been put on hold pending clarification of Kansas’ grant status. The funding is anything but certain.

So what about the private funds being raised by the Kansas Arts Foundation? The goal has been to raise enough money to at least replace the lost $700,000 in state funds. The governor reportedly donated $30,000 in leftover inauguration money, but how much money has been raised in addition to that? Weis told her fellow commissioners on Tuesday that she wasn’t prepared to share that information. Really? How are commissioners supposed to set a direction if they have no idea how much money they have?

The KAC reportedly will have part-time access to accounting and grant management services through the Kansas Department of Administration and the governor’s office. A Topeka company is donating office space to the foundation so KAC and/or the new foundation will have a place to do business if they ever have a staff.

Although we hope the NEA money is forthcoming, there are some solid reasons the national group would hesitate to send its money to Kansas. The KAC has no staff and no direction. It’s unclear how the Kansas Arts Foundation will work and how it will coordinate with the KAC. New policies to govern the new structure haven’t been drawn up. The Kansas Arts Commission is in such a state of upheaval, it is understandable that the NEA would be concerned about how its money would be used.

This seems to be another case of the Brownback administration taking action without having a clear idea of what the consequences will be or how a smooth transition can take place. We certainly hope it all works out, but even if the transition eventually is successful, it clearly isn’t going to be smooth or painless.


Ken Lassman 6 years, 8 months ago

Set up a foundation to receive monies, but no clear policies developed how to disburse the funds. Monies requested from the feds despite no state matching funds and no clear relationship between the private foundation and the state commission, and no staffing to run programs.

Yes, Brownback is making a statement by gutting the previous functional structure and replacing it with some half-baked ideas that raise more questions than they answer. That statement?

Incompetence. The defining word of this administration.

Cait McKnelly 6 years, 8 months ago

Brownback is a complete and utter failure as a Governor. Lawsuit after lawsuit is being filed against the state, There is no transparency at any level. The SRS director hides behind canned and recorded "announcements" and refuses access to even "friendly" press (such as the Wichita Eagle), ducking behind a double layer of two official "spokespersons". There isn't even any communication with the Legislature, as the meeting of the House Ways and Means Committee proves. I've never seen this state like this before. Kansas is teetering on the edge of utter chaos. Fasten your seat belts guys. It's gonna be a bumpy ride.

sciencegeek 6 years, 8 months ago

The SRS director doesn't have to say anything publicly. As long as he continues to open all of his meetings with a prayer, he won't need to talk to anyone else.

overthemoon 6 years, 8 months ago

I'm confused with the use of Kansas Arts Commission vs Kansas Arts Foundation. The Commission no longer exists and is defunded, all commissioners were fired. The Foundation board appointed by Brownback is now being referred to as 'Commissioners', and meetings are called 'Commission' meetings. I think, for clarity sake, we should refer to the gang of Brownback appointees as 'Foundation Board Members'???

Things to investigate: Are the Foundation Board members paid? How much? Other than being Brownback campaign contributors, what are the qualifications and experience of these board members? Does the 'private foundation' designation exempt the Sunshine Rule for open meetings?

Brian Laird 6 years, 8 months ago

Actually, the commission still exists, as the article states.The legislature refused to go along with eliminating it and funded it at nearly the previous level. In his line item veto, Brownback deleted the funding, but could not unilaterally eliminate the agency.

overthemoon 6 years, 8 months ago

But are the board members KAC or KAF? I think there's a distinction there that's important. If KAC, and they are being paid, where's the money coming from and how are open meeting regs being met?

Ken Lassman 6 years, 8 months ago

The KAC was set up by the legislature and the head of Brownback's shell organization, the Kansas Arts Foundation, has been made chairman of the KAC. Before the majority of KAC members were appointed by Brownback, the KAC commissioners refused to go along with Weiss' request to ask that the KAF receive NEA monies. She didn't consult the new KAC board before she went ahead and wrote the NEA asking that they give monies to the KAF.

KAC meeting minutes are subject to open meetings regs but KAF is a private non-profit and so isn't. The KAC Agenda for their Aug. 2 meeting was on the website (http://arts.ks.gov/), but so far no minutes. The meeting was a teleconference that anyone could attend, but with the following proviso: "This is a reminder that only Commissioners or invited presenters may comment during the teleconference. Other participants are asked to Mute their phones to minimize noise distractions."

Looks like the KAF funded a luncheon for the KAC commissioners. I don't know if they have a travel budget or are otherwise compensated.

overthemoon 6 years, 8 months ago

Ok...that clears it up a bit. Its basically a big snafu, and its likely going to stay that way. Got it.

What a ridiculous situation.

George_Braziller 6 years, 8 months ago

She can make all the arguments she wants, but the NEA is very clear and specific about their basic eligibility requirements. The KAC is ineligible for multiple reasons. It is spelled out very clearly in a checklist on the NEA website. It only takes about two minutes to find the information.

This week, new KAC Chairwoman Linda Browning Weis sent a letter to the National Endowment for the Arts making the argument that KAC should remain qualified to receive federal arts grants.

overthemoon 6 years, 8 months ago

and guess what? the NEA is on the conservative chopping block, too.

Frightwig 6 years, 8 months ago

Yep. And the NEA can't cave-in here. If they did, it would result in numerous other states cutting arts funding because they would then expect the NEA to continue to pay up.

Doug Harvey 6 years, 8 months ago

The goal is to make this happen nationally. Kansas is just the start and the easiest to derail because a high percentage of the population is asleep.

George_Braziller 6 years, 8 months ago

Not 'asleep' as much as just 'sheep.'

Sheep aren't the brightest animals in the world. They're a bit like lemmings.

"Oh, that one is trotting on a path toward a sheer cliff. Guess I'll follow because he seems to know where he's going."

chootspa 6 years, 8 months ago

So he wants to replace a transparent and accountable public organization with a private foundation lacking both accountability and transparency. Why wouldn't everyone want that?

yourworstnightmare 6 years, 8 months ago

The only valid art in Brownbakistan will consist of illuminated renderings of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross, or as a babe in the arms of his mother, the Virgin Mary.

In other words, European art circa 1200. The Dark Ages.

George_Braziller 6 years, 8 months ago

I was going to say "Middle Ages" but I think your call of "The Dark Ages" is much more accurate. Either one is pretty scary.

Centerville 6 years, 8 months ago

Here's how competent the last Commission was: they were offered nice, new, and free office space, which they declined, preferring to spend that money on themselves rather than passing it along to any artists.

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