The success of fundraising efforts by the new Kansas Arts Foundation will depend in large part on how confident private donors are in the organization that will be handling and distributing their money.
So far, the foundation and the remaining shell of the Kansas Arts Commission aren’t inspiring much confidence. Concerns voiced by a Lawrence resident who resigned from the commission last week are a reminder of the unsettled state of arts funding in Kansas.
Gov. Sam Brownback created the arts foundation to replace the arts commission, which he abolished by executive order. The Kansas Senate overrode that executive order so the arts commission continues to exist. However, the arts commission funding that legislators had included in the current year’s budget was vetoed by Brownback so the commission has no staff, no money and no direction for the future.
Although the governor had predicted the state would continue to receive a base of $1.2 million in federal matching funds to support arts programs, that funding has been denied by the National Endowment for the Arts because Kansas no longer has a state-funded arts organization — the only such state in the nation. The Kansas Arts Foundation was charged with raising private funds, but has yet to announce any success in that effort. In the meantime, local arts organizations across the state are trying to scrape money together to keep at least some of their programs running.
It’s not surprising that the foundation’s fundraising efforts are lagging. Why would donors give to an organization that appears to be so lacking in organization and direction? Linda Browning Weis of Manhattan has been appointed to lead both the foundation and the commission, but efforts to get organized don’t seem to be making much progress. If the foundation is able to raise some money, how will it be distributed across the state? Will funding processes and program standards be similar to those set by the previous arts commission, or will new policies be adopted? With no staff in place, who will provide oversight for funding and the programs that receive it? These are questions for which artists, arts agencies and donors need answers.
Brownback contends that funding for the arts is not a core function of state government and private fundraising can actually increase funding to the arts in Kansas. Many Kansans don’t accept the governor’s premise about government’s core mission, and nothing that has happened in the state in the last few months seems to confirm that the arts in Kansas are headed toward a better funding situation.
It always seemed unlikely that increased private donations could offset the loss of state and federal funding for the arts. Many private dollars already are going into the arts, and this isn’t the best time to be asking for more. Beyond the money, the Kansas Arts Commission and its staff were an important hub for the arts, connecting groups and stretching public money to provide key support to arts projects across the state. The coordination the commission provided may have been more important than the funds.
A group called Kansas Citizens for the Arts is calling on the Kansas Legislature and Brownback to restore funding to the Kansas Arts Commission. The governor’s actions so far make that unlikely, but if he and his appointees can’t show some evidence that their private-funding model is getting off the ground, Brownback should rethink his strategy.