Much attention has been paid to the loss of state funding for the arts following Gov. Sam Brownback’s veto of the entire Kansas Arts Commission budget earlier this year.
Even more important than the loss of money, however, is the loss of the statewide arts agency that provided the necessary organization to raise funds, apply for grants and provide oversight and support for local arts groups across the state. Without that organization, it will be almost impossible to replace the financial support the state has lost.
The Kansas Arts Commission continues to exist, along with a new Kansas Arts Foundation that is charged with raising private funding to support arts in the state. This week, the groups received confirmation from the National Endowment for the Arts that Kansas would not be eligible for federal matching funds for next year. The NEA had extended the deadline for Kansas to apply for those funds until Oct. 31, but it became apparent that Kansas wouldn’t be able to complete an acceptable plan for funding before that deadline.
That outcome was foreshadowed earlier this month by comments from Mary Kennedy McCabe, executive director of the Mid-America Arts Alliance, the regional group that serves as a conduit for federal arts dollars. McCabe had said that without a paid staff or a budget, chances were slim that the KAC could compile a detailed and comprehensive partnership plan that would qualify it for NEA funds. She said that NEA funds were denied for this year because the KAC did not have a plan, staff, budget or grant-making strategies in place. That same concern apparently applied to funding for next year.
Whether or not the NEA is being asked to match private or public dollars in Kansas probably isn’t nearly as big an issue as whether the state has the organization in place to make sure the federal funding it receives is put to good use. The new KAC chair continues to talk about “developing an innovative funding plan” for arts in Kansas. The vice chair talks about developing “new and innovative ways to promote the arts in Kansas.” “Innovative” is good, but none of it will matter if there isn’t an organization in place to implement the plans the volunteer commissioners come up with.
When Brownback eliminated funding for the arts, he also eliminated the organizational structure that is essential to raising new money and implementing new programs. Restoring that organization — including some paid staff members — is the first step to attracting grant money and private donations to support the arts. The governor has taken a tough stand on this issue, but allocating enough money in the state budget at least to make the Kansas Arts Commission a viable, staffed organization is essential to bringing arts funding back to Kansas.