Arts ax

Kansans who care about the arts should carefully monitor the impact of the state’s new arts funding strategy.

Although it was not unexpected, Gov. Sam Brownback’s line-item veto of funding for the Kansas Arts Commission had a stunning note of finality.

It is possible but unlikely that Brownback’s veto will be overridden by state legislators in their closing session. Barring that action, the KAC will have no staff and no state funding as of July 1. What happens after that is extremely uncertain.

According to the KAC officials and other state arts groups, the first thing that will happen is that 200 local arts organizations and artists will lose state support. The state will lose an estimated $1.2 million from the National Endowment for the Arts, the federal agency that funds state arts agencies and organizations. Kansas, they say, will be the only state in the nation without access to those funds.

Brownback contends that may not be true, but continued federal funding is far from certain. He has created the Kansas Arts Foundation, a private, nonprofit corporation that he says will take over the work of the KAC. However, if that agency does not receive state support, it will not qualify for funding from the NEA or the Mid-America Arts Alliance.

Nonetheless Brownback says he remains convinced that putting support for the arts in the hands of a private, nonprofit group will be a positive move for the state and that any loss of federal funding will be made up through private donations.

That would be great, but it is a daunting goal. In addition to the challenge of raising private dollars, how will the new Arts Foundation operate? Will it continue to support a broad range of arts or will the private money it raises come with strings that restrict its efforts in various ways? Arts advocates point out that the Kansas Arts Foundation hasn’t revealed any plans for fundraising or staffing so it’s hard to know what direction the group plans to take.

It’s a situation that certainly bears watching in the months to come. Although the Kansas Arts Commission will have no staff or funding, it apparently will continue to exist in name only. That presumably would make it possible to restore its standing at some future date — if legislators and the governor choose to take that action.

Based on Brownback’s veto, the state apparently has no choice but to try this bold arts funding experiment. Time will tell whether this strategy will lead to success or failure for the state’s arts community.