Speaking out for the arts in Kansas

November 4, 2011


The Kansas Arts Commission has closed its doors. Kansas has become the only state in the nation to eliminate public funding for the arts.

Public funding is premised on one intrinsic rule: Art is for everyone, and our culture belongs to all. Public funding is about equal access. Public funding ensures that Kansas museums, concerts, dance and theater events are open to all Kansans, not just to those who can afford the price of admission or enjoy private access. Public funding is crucial in expanding audiences beyond elite circles. Public funding ensures that people across Kansas can build strong cultural communities in places large and small, rural and urban: Goodland, Hays, Fort Scott, Concordia, Salina, Lincoln, Greensburg, Wichita, Lucas, Lawrence and Kansas City.

Let’s not forget what the arts look like in Kansas. Art in Kansas is and has always been of the grassroots, nurtured by values, reflecting the unrelenting work ethic of its people, and exploring a common landscape that runs beyond our vast horizon. Every community in Kansas can point to local examples of how artists – musicians, visual artists, writers, actors, dancers — have helped shape the shared language of our state. Thriving arts communities are an integral part of Kansas’ independent, democratic nature.

On one hand, art is not about the money. Still, the financial impact of eliminating public funding for the Kansas Arts Commission is clear: The state cut a budget of $689,000 in funds that had yielded an investment of $1.3 million in federal funds, creating jobs statewide and supporting arts all over the state. All of those dollars, those jobs, those opportunities, are now gone.

In my career in the Kansas arts, and also as a steward for national public arts funding, I have experienced firsthand how powerful public support can be in stimulating philanthropic contributions among communities, artists, private business and foundations. In turn, these public-private partnerships have the power to draw national and international recognition for local arts programs and a reputation for innovation to the entire area. A renovated arts facility may owe its presence to a generous private donor, but sustaining its future often requires a public source. Foundations award prestigious challenge grants to arts organizations, but matching funds often depend on an arts infrastructure supported by city and state grants.

The Kansas Arts Commission once made it possible for generations of children in our state’s communities to experience a rich selection of arts opportunities, but now the organization and its network lie fallow, and Kansas children are the poorer for it. All of our residents deserve opportunities to develop creative and critical minds, capable of imagination and innovation, the same resourceful qualities that characterize us as Kansans.

If Kansas is to contribute to a national currency of ideas, then the state must invest in arts and education for our residents. Cultural capital and economic capital are not separate; they go hand in hand. If we shortchange our children and communities on one count, we will shortchange them on the other. For the sake of future generations of Kansans, public funding for the arts must be reinstated in the blueprint for the state.

Ultimately, art is not about money: Art is about innovation and improvisation, authenticity and insight. Art means exercising individual freedoms in conversation with a community. Public funding is about access and opportunity — investing in the marvelous diversity of human expression, sharing those perspectives among us all, and making us stronger as a people.

— Saralyn Reece Hardy has worked in the arts in Salina, Washington, D.C., and now Lawrence.


jayhawklawrence 6 years, 7 months ago

This letter was so good I had to read it 3 or 4 times. Ms. Hardy makes excellent points and she got me thinking...

We probably have not spent enough money on the Arts.

I would like to see a plan where we doubled funding for the Arts but at the same time increased the efforts for private contributions.

Obviously, we have not done a good enough job of teaching people about the importance of the Arts here in Kansas when we have become the only state that does not support it.

It makes Kansas seem like a very dull place. It goes against the spirit of our state motto where we talk about reaching for the stars.

In the shadow of Kansas conservative politics, however, the stars are getting harder to see and even harder to reach.

vuduchyld 6 years, 7 months ago

My state once fought for abolition Now we've got no Arts Commission I live in a red state and that's why I'm so blue

(the video) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OcK3KR...

overthemoon 6 years, 7 months ago

You really didn't understand what she was saying at all, did ya?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 7 months ago

"Every community in Kansas can point to local examples of how artists – musicians, visual artists, writers, actors, dancers — have helped shape the shared language of our state. Thriving arts communities are an integral part of Kansas’ independent, democratic nature."

But in Brownbackistan, this is all unnecessary-- everything we truly need will be trickled down on us by the Koch Bros as they see fit in their infinite wisdom.

pavlovs_dog 6 years, 7 months ago

I'm sure Ms. Hardy has written numerous checks. The point of the letter, simply put, is that public funding allows creation of a state-wide fabric of encouragement, education, and support that is superior in some ways to the mere writing of personal checks by individuals. People have no difficulty grasping this concept as it applies to public systems like roads; it is also necessary for quality of life enhancements like public broadcasting and the arts. It creates a diverse experiential network with something for each of us at an insignificant cost to the individual. If we rely on strictly private funding we will generally get only what the biggest donors are interested in funding.

jayhawklawrence 6 years, 7 months ago

We had something in place that was working and the people that were running it were doing a good job. They were motivated and well organized from what I could tell.

Now we have politics.

I think you may be missing some of what Ms. Hardy was trying to convey.

George Lippencott 6 years, 7 months ago

I am sorry but I disagree. She and others like her are jsut one more set of pigs at the trough

overthemoon 6 years, 7 months ago

Shame on you for saying that. Shame Shame Shame. Do you have any idea who she is or what she does?

jayhawklawrence 6 years, 7 months ago

Brownback stood alone against the Kansas legislature. He also stood alone against 49 other states in blocking funding for the arts even though it amounted to less than $700K of which over $1 million in matching funds would become available from a national organization for the arts.

Brownback decided in his infinite wisdom that he alone knew best.

Of course, only a very naive person would not realize that this had nothing at all to do with ethics or morality or good government and everything to do with political arrogance.

I think when many of the Kansas legislators calculate the amount of money that has been invested in remodeling their elaborate monument to political extravagance known as our state capital building in Topeka, they may feel a little ashamed of their leader's actions to punish a small group that was doing a hell of a job.

There is no army of pigs attacking the heartland. This is just political arrogance.

George Lippencott 6 years, 7 months ago

Of course not. Money spent on the arts is essentioal. Money spent on our soldiers can be cut.

overthemoon 6 years, 7 months ago

George, you twisted logic is in full throttle today. Its not one thing or another that makes a country strong and great. Its the whole spectrum of human endeavor and enterprise that makes for a complete and healthy society. Why people can't see that is just beyond me. (and I'm pretty sure that a whole lot of the money spent 'on soldiers' never benefits them nor us one little bit. don't forget the $200 hammers. its a perfect system for those 'at the trough' contractors you want to keep supporting.)

JamesA 6 years, 6 months ago

Necessity leads to the greatest innovation. Whether there is funding or not, the arts in Kansas will ultimately prove their worth.

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