Topeka A national advocacy group is urging the federal government’s arts agency to withhold money from Kansas after Gov. Sam Brownback made it the first U.S. state to eliminate its funding for arts programs.
Americans for the Arts, a nonprofit group based in Washington, wants the National Endowment for the Arts to send a strong message that each state must be “a fair partner” in supporting the arts, the advocacy group’s chief executive, Robert Lynch, said Thursday. He said allowing Kansas to receive federal dollars without putting up any of its own funds would be unfair to other states.
The NEA has already said that Kansas isn’t eligible for federal funds because it no longer finances a state arts agency, but officials in Brownback’s administration don’t view the issue as settled. Arts advocates expect the state to lose up to $1.2 million a year, both from the NEA and the Mid-America Arts Alliance, a regional group based in Kansas City, Mo.
Brownback vetoed the Kansas Arts Commission’s entire appropriation in May as well as a line in the state’s current budget allowing the commission to retain its staff. The commission itself still exists, and Brownback appointed a new chairwoman last month to help set a course without state financial support.
Lynch said adequate support for the arts requires a partnership involving the federal government, states, local groups and private donors. If the NEA still gives Kansas funds, he said, for other states “it just makes it easier to not do the right thing.”
“The right thing is that state government needs to be a fair partner,” Lynch said. “That partnership is how it works in our country, and you can’t take a piece out of that without unraveling or threatening to unravel the structure.”
Brownback has argued Kansas needs to rely on private funding for its arts programs so state government can concentrate on functions such as aid to public schools, social services and public safety.
He gave more than $30,000 left over from fundraising for his January inauguration festivities to the private Kansas Arts Foundation, which formed in February in anticipation of the elimination of the state commission.
“The governor’s very confident of our state’s commitment to the arts and is confident there will be strong private-sector support for funding programs across the state,” said Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag. “At a time when state revenues are tight, Kansas needs to focus on its core responsibilities.”
As a money-saving move, Brownback proposed replacing the commission with the private Arts Foundation, while still preserving a $200,000 state subsidy. Legislators rejected his plan and put all state arts funding in the commission’s budget, setting aside about $689,000 — which was the money Brownback vetoed.
New Arts Commission Chairwoman Linda Browning Weis, a Manhattan real estate broker with an extensive background in music and music education, also is president of the private foundation. The governor appoints the commission’s 12 members and is expected to name six appointees Friday, replacing departing members.
Weis has promised to work to retain NEA funding and draft a revised plan for promoting the arts.
The NEA said in a statement that Kansas was no longer eligible to receive funds as of June 10, when the Arts Commission laid of its staff. The NEA’s guidelines require a state to have an official arts agency with a staff, state dollars for arts programs and a plan for promoting the arts.
If the state can’t comply, its annual NEA allocation, about $710,000, will be redistributed to other states, the NEA said. But, the agency said, if a new or overhauled Kansas arts agency can meet the requirements, “the NEA will work with that entity.”
Lynch said the key is requiring Kansas to put up funds. “It is about fairness to the rest of the nation,” he said.
The six-state Mid-America Arts Alliance has taken a similar position. It says it can’t provide NEA subsidies or grants in Kansas after Brownback’s actions, and Kansas stands to lose about $470,000 in annual support.
“We’re not choosing to create continuing drama,” said Abby Sims Beckloff, the alliance’s director of external affairs. “If one state is allowed to step outside the guidelines, then it raises questions for the other states.”