State arts support not a frill

It would appear that the “culture wars” have returned, this time under the guise of budget cutting. In Washington, a new, more conservative House of Representatives is threatening to cut off all funding for public radio and television. In Kansas, Gov. Brownback has signed an order abolishing the Kansas Arts Commission. My reaction to all of this is a combination of profound sadness and a feeling that there is more behind these moves than simple economic savings.

The abolition of the Kansas Arts Commission will save the state less than a million dollars–a large sum for individuals, but quite tiny in comparison with the overall state budget. Proponents of the cut argue that “you have to start somewhere.” I agree completely. The question is not whether the state must limit its spending; the question is what state-funded activities should be cut or reduced. It think that it is a tragic mistake to eliminate one of the only sources of funds in Kansas for support of the arts.

Public funding of artistic activity has been a favorite target of social conservatives for decades. At the heart of this opposition to funding the arts is the suspicion that this funding is being used to produce “objectionable” art, i.e., art that offends the moral or religious sensibilities of the opponents. For some reason, distrust of art has become ingrained in the core consciousness of American social conservatives.

I think that these opponents of public funding of art in Kansas should look at the projects and artists that have been funded over the years. It’s hard to see how supporting community art programs or assisting young artists to carry on their careers is objectionable. How many projects funded by the Kansas Arts Commission have offended social conservatives ?

If the motivation behind the abolition of the KAC is not based on this distrust but, rather, is a judgment that art simply isn’t that important, then we are in even more serious trouble. For me, art is the surest sign of God’s presence in mankind that I know. I believe that the human creativity that lies behind art is nothing less than a spark of the divine.

To hinder the arts, to deprive the people of Kansas of an exposure to the arts is, to me, at least, nigh unto sacrilege. Who among the opponents of the KAC will promise that the next Leonardo or Giotto, now a baby somewhere in Kansas, will not be deterred from his destiny because of the lost opportunities brought about by the abolition of public funding for the arts? Is art to once again become the sole preserve of the wealthy? Are the vast majority of Kansans to be told what art they may view by the wealthy few who can afford to support it?

Please, Gov. Brownback, think about how art glorifies not only Man but God, and do the right thing.