Any hope that Kansans had for a renewed effort to preserve a state arts agency have been dashed by drastic reductions in the state arts budget proposed earlier this month by Gov. Sam Brownback.
Two years ago, the governor used his line-item veto to eliminate all funding for the Kansas Arts Commission, which had a long record of successfully supporting arts activities across the state, especially in smaller communities. The state lost the leadership provided by the commission staff and all of the funding supplied by the state, along with about $1.2 million that came from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Mid-American Arts Alliance, which no longer would allocate funds to Kansas because it didn’t have a state-supported arts agency.
For the current fiscal year, under pressure from Kansas residents and legislators, Brownback approved a budget that included $700,000 for the new Creative Arts Industries Commission, which was placed under the Kansas Department of Commerce and reportedly would combine the operations of the Kansas Arts Commission and Kansas Film Commission.
Although arts advocates tried to be optimistic about the new commission, they probably aren’t surprised by how that effort has turned out. Peter Jasso, the former head of the Kansas Film Commission was put in charge of the new agency. In October, he reported to members of the Legislative Budget Committee that the new commission had more or less ensured its own failure by not distributing any of the $700,000 to state arts groups. Jasso said he was waiting for a new strategic plan, which he said would be completed this month. He also told legislators that only about $150,000 of the $700,000 would go to administrative costs, and the rest would be used for grants across the state.
If the commission spends $150,000 a year on administrative costs, there won’t be much left over for grants if the state approves Brownback’s current budget recommendation of just $200,000 a year for the entire Creative Arts Industries Commission. When he abolished the Kansas Arts Commission, Brownback also created a new Kansas Arts Foundation that he said would raise private funds to replace the lost state funding. The foundation also has been a tremendous failure. In September, that group said it had raised nearly $105,000 but allocated nothing to local arts groups.
If you go to the Creative Arts Industries Commission website, you will find links for people who want to shoot a movie in Kansas or access a “Kansas film database.” You will find information about how to purchase a vehicle license plate to support the arts and a request for proposals for some public art in Manhattan. You’ll also find information about an artist-in-residence position at Glacier National Park (apparently for artists who are ready to give up on Kansas). That’s it.
Although the governor has maintained token funding in his current budget, it seems unlikely that such a small amount, coupled with the lack of a viable arts organization, will allow the state to restore much, if any, of the federal funding it lost.
When Brownback took office, he said he didn’t think that supporting the arts was an appropriate use of public money. Barring drastic action by Kansas residents or legislators, the governor appears on his way to accomplishing that goal in Kansas.