Topeka The new leader of the Kansas Arts Commission is confident she and other arts advocates can raise enough private dollars for programs, and she’s choosing to stay out of the debate over actions by Gov. Sam Brownback that made the state the first to eliminate its arts funding.
Arts Commission Chairwoman Linda Browning Weis told The Associated Press during an interview Wednesday that she believes the commission will know by the end of August whether Kansas continues receiving federal funds through the National Endowment for the Arts. She also said she expects announcements this summer about fundraising by the nonprofit Kansas Arts Foundation.
“Because government funding goes away, is art going to die?” she said. “No. Art will live on.”
Weis, a Manhattan real estate broker with an extensive background in music and music education, also is Kansas Arts Foundation president. Brownback had hoped the foundation, which was formed in February, would replace the commission.
Brownback, a Republican who took office in January, used the governor’s power to veto individual budget items to strike all funding for the commission from the state’s $13.8 billion spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1. He also eliminated a line that allowed the commission to retain its staff, and its five employees will be laid off Friday.
Former commission Chairman Henry Schwaller IV, the president of a Hays real estate investment firm and a local arts council, questioned whether Weis understands the difficulty Kansas faces in preserving arts programs. He said neither she nor the commission has “a clear idea of where we’re headed.”
“She does have a very friendly, motivated attitude,” said Schwaller, who’ll remain on the commission because his term hasn’t expired. “The problem is that it doesn’t square with reality.”
The governor has defended his veto as a cost-saving move that allows the state to focus on “core” functions, such as education, social services and public safety. But his actions didn’t repeal the state law that establishes the commission or allows him to appoint its members — and he picked Weis last week to fill a vacant spot on the commission and named her chairwoman.
Some arts advocates have strongly criticized Brownback’s actions, arguing they’ll hurt the arts and cost the state jobs linked to the arts. Proposals to dramatically cut arts funding have been pursued this year in other states, but national groups say Kansas is the first place where such efforts eliminated funding.
Schwaller said Weis advocates Brownback’s approach.
She said she doesn’t “have to take sides.” She also said neither Brownback nor anyone in his administration asked whether she agreed with him before she joined the foundation or was appointed to the commission.
“Some people may say, ‘Well, you’re taking sides by doing this,”’ she said. “How can I accomplish anything positive in a better way? My answer to accepting the appointment is so that I could be helpful in working toward solutions.”
In pushing to replace the commission with the Arts Foundation, Brownback wanted to reduce the state’s costs back to a $200,000 subsidy for that private organization, through the state historical society.
Legislators rejected Brownback’s plan in favor of continuing the commission and set aside $689,000 for its operations, including grants to local arts agencies and groups — the money the governor vetoed.
Arts advocates warn that Brownback’s actions could cost the state up to $1.2 million in federal funds. Schwaller said the state won’t qualify for NEA funding because it won’t be putting funds into the Arts Commission.
“This is a crisis created by the administration,” he said.
But the state hasn’t heard officially from the NEA, and Weis isn’t conceding the issue. She said she’ll talk to NEA officials after the commission meets in early July and said commission members will work on updating the NEA-required state plan for promoting the arts.
“I’m not sure what we’re going to have,” she said. Then, she added, “We’ll have a lot of enthusiasm — I can tell you that.”
Weis said her confidence is bolstered by experiences in the early 1990s in leading her church, First Lutheran in Manhattan, in successfully raising money for a multimillion dollar expansion. She said she’d initially doubted some members could afford to help.
“We will find the money,” she said. “We will raise the money.”