Editor’s note: Lawrence artist Louis Copt was one of five recipients of the 2011 Governor’s Arts Award. This column is an edited version of the speech he gave at the awards ceremony, March 3, in Topeka.
From the vast plains of Western Kansas to the tree-covered hills near the Missouri border, the state of the arts in our beloved state is in jeopardy.
No doubt we are in difficult times, with a sagging economy, spirit-sapping unemployment and changing political fortunes. We look to an uncertain future.
There is no need for me to go over the litany of losses the state would suffer if the Kansas Arts Commission loses its funding. The dramatic drop in matching funds, the effect on jobs and the blow to small towns and tourism is well documented in the explosion of Web-based communication from e-mail to Facebook. One only has to Google the Kansas Arts Commission to find a host of information and action-based response opportunities.
Arts spending has become the obvious example when it comes to illustrating the evils of wasteful government. For conservatives, this has become a rich vein to mine, a platform to pontificate and a desperate distraction from more important issues.
Arts funding did not get us into financial trouble. There is plenty of public funding for highways, and tax breaks for new businesses and subsidies to smooth out the business cycle for farmers. We will be further impoverished — not better off — if state funding for the arts comes to a halt.
It is often argued that the “wasteful spending of today is passed down to our children.” The same argument could be made that cutting the arts funding of today robs future generations of inspiration.
During the Depression, there were many farsighted people in government who joined with Roosevelt to create the Federal Art Project which, in 1934, created over 5,000 jobs for artists and produced over 225,000 works of art for the American people. Writers like Langston Hughes wrote poetry and plays. Others compiled histories, and artists painted murals in small towns throughout Kansas including Sabetha, Eureka and Goodland plus the Curry murals in the state Capitol — all of which, would not exist today without public arts funding.
These works of art now stand as a reminder of a time in our country’s history when dreams were not allowed to be destroyed by economic disaster.
Now is not the time to let our theaters go dark, our galleries to stand empty or for music to go silent.
Now is not the time to pull paintbrushes from eager hands of schoolchildren or clog the pens of poets and writers.
Now is not the time to put Kansas in the spotlight of ridicule or to move to the mode of mediocrity but rather to lead and inspire.
Now, in fact, would be the time to increase arts funding in Kansas.
Now would be the time for those interested in growing the state and jobs to step forward and champion the quality of life the arts can bring.
It is within the realm of possibility to have essential services and a healthy funding for the arts. This should not be an either/or situation. This should be an opportunity to have a dialogue on both sides to clear a path for rational thinking, to sweep aside stereotypes and know that we can have both bread and roses.
To me, the Governor’s Arts Awards is not just a recognition of an individual in the arts, but a celebration of what it means to be a human who can lift hearts and minds through creative expression.
Let us tell the nation of our arts here in the Sunflower State, where I was born and raised, where I was educated and where I found my artistic voice. Let us now raise all our voices through painting, sculpture, theater, dance, music, arts education and philanthropy to say with one clear message, that arts in Kansas matter.