There is a little good news for Kansas arts advocates in the state budget proposed by Gov. Sam Brownback.
It’s not great news, but it’s something.
Brownback’s budget includes $200,000 for a new entity that would merge the Kansas Arts Commission and the Kansas Film Commission under the Department of Commerce. The $200,000 is the same amount Brownback proposed last year when he signed an executive order to abolish the Arts Commission. However, under the new proposal, that money will be shared with the Kansas Film Commission, which is receiving $105,000 in the current year’s budget, so that’s only an additional $95,000 to support Arts Commission activities. The new Creative Industries Commission also would have to continue to justify its funding based on the number of jobs it creates in the state. That’s why it’s in the Department of Commerce, but it doesn’t seem like a natural way to measure the success of “creative” ventures in the state.
The governor’s initial plan last year was to allocate $200,000 to the Kansas State Historical Society to facilitate the Arts Commission’s transition from being a state agency. The Kansas Legislature sought to override that plan with a budget that allocated about $700,000 to preserve the Arts Commission as a state agency. When the governor vetoed that funding, it left the Arts Commission intact but without any funding or staff to carry out its mission.
That move made Kansas the only state in the country without a publicly funded arts agency and cost the state about $1.3 million in matching federal arts money. Efforts to raise private funds to support arts in the state never got off the ground, and Brownback drew considerable criticism throughout the state.
The governor acknowledged during a recent visit to the Journal-World that the arts funding situation hadn’t worked out as he had planned. He still is allowing only $200,000 in his budget for both film and arts, but is pursuing a different strategy that will preserve a state-funded arts agency and presumably restore the state’s eligibility for federal matching funds. Making sure the state will qualify for matching funds is essential. The governor assumed the state would get those funds this year but later learned Kansas would not qualify, which had a devastating effect on art organizations across the state.
The $200,000 won’t go very far in supporting arts and film efforts across the state, but perhaps it at least will pay for minimal staffing to administer the state funds and additional funds raised from private sources. The Kansas Arts Foundation, created by Brownback last year to raise private money, will need to get to work. Those in favor of more support for the arts also may need to step up by giving more time and money to local efforts.
Brownback Budget Director Steve Anderson, who presented the funding proposal to the House Appropriations Committee, said the governor had listened to complaints about the decision to veto arts funding. Perhaps the governor also learned a few things about how arts funding works and how important it is to communities, large and small, across the state.
This year’s budget proposal is far less than most arts advocates would like, but may be a step in the right direction.