Topeka Senate leaders say Gov. Sam Brownback’s order to abolish the Kansas Arts Commission may have been hastily made and there may be enough votes in the Senate to reject it.
“His intentions were good,” Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, said of Brownback’s proposal.
But Morris and Senate Majority Leader Jay Scott Emler, R-Lindsborg, said Brownback, also a Republican, had a short time frame to make a lot of budget decisions while facing a $500 million revenue shortfall.
Sworn into office Jan. 10 at the start of the 2011 legislative session, Brownback had 30 days under the Kansas Constitution to issue executive reorganization orders.
That forces any new governor to make a lot of decisions in a hurry, Emler said. Brownback, he said, didn’t “necessarily have time to poll everybody to find out how viable those ideas are.”
The inner workings
Brownback’s proposal to abolish the small state agency as a budgetary move has raised stiff opposition from across the state.
The Arts Commission’s supporters said it is one of the state’s most notable success stories.
It receives approximately $800,000 in state dollars and attracts more than $1.2 million in matching dollars that go to programs and services that reach every county in Kansas.
Of those matching funds, the KAC receives $778,200 from the National Endowment for the Arts and $437,767 from the Mid-America Arts Alliance.
Under Brownback’s executive reorganization order, the KAC would be abolished, and its duties would be transferred to the Kansas State Historical Society. A newly formed nonprofit, the Kansas Arts Foundation Inc., would provide the support to “ensure Kansas’ participation in federal and regional arts programs,” said Landon Fulmer, Brownback’s policy director.
For the next fiscal year, the Historical Society would receive $200,000 in state funds as “seed” money to help draw down federal funds, Fulmer said.
Linda Browning Weis of Manhattan, who is president of the newly formed Kansas Arts Foundation, said she is confidant the group can raise more money for the arts.
The board includes philanthropists, business executives, artists and others who are all arts lovers, she said. “We expect to increase the federal matching opportunity exponentially through the vehicle of private funding. We are here to grow the arts,” she said.
But Henry Schwaller, chairman of the Kansas Arts Commission, said the nonprofit Kansas Arts Foundation has not had time to develop a statewide comprehensive arts plan that would be required to receive the National Endowment for the Arts matching grants. Such a plan usually takes nearly a year to put together, he said.
While the supporters of private funding say they believe they will raise more than the KAC has attracted, Schwaller said there is no arts organization in Kansas that has raised $700,000 in nongovernmental grants for reprogramming. And, he said, many local arts organizations have expressed concern about having to compete against another foundation.
“Creating a Kansas Arts Foundation, a new, competing nonprofit arts support organization, would defeat its own purpose,” he said.
On a request from legislators, staff members have contacted representatives from the NEA and Mid-America Arts Alliances, asking if the Foundation, envisioned by Brownback, would qualify for federal programs in the same way that the KAC has.
Officials from both the NEA and Mid-America said they didn’t have enough information to answer that question, and they posed numerous questions about Brownback’s executive order and about how the proposed new system would work.
For example, one question was, “How will the NEA be assured of appropriate oversight if the duties of the former state arts agency are transferred to the State Historical Society and yet the funding is simply passed through this designated state agency to a separate nonprofit entity with different staff, separate by-laws and a separate board?”
Rural support for KAC
Many rural residents have voiced support for the KAC, saying it provides the leadership, organizational assistance and funding needed for the cultural enrichment that that they otherwise would not have.
"Without the KAC, a great many smaller, rural communities will suffer and the delineation between rural and urban and 'haves' and 'have nots' will grow," said Brenda Meder, executive director of the Hays Arts Council.
Over the past six years, the KAC has contributed more than $30,000 and provided strategic assistance to help the annual Symphony in the Flint Hills. The symphony has attracted more than 45,000 people over the years and has become a top arts event in the state.
“The Kansas Arts Commission imprimatur proclaims to the public that the event is held to a high standard and is worthy of taxpayer support,” said Cathy Hoy, board member of the Symphony in the Hills Inc.
Last week, the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee approved a resolution that disapproves of Brownback’s executive order. The next step of the fight will now go to the full Senate.
State Sen. Roger Reitz, R-Manhattan, who has been leading the charge to preserve the KAC, said Brownback’s plan is “not a feasible or prudent alternative.”