Tuesday’s announcement that the state was awarding $58,000 in grants to eight arts projects across Kansas was a sad indication of how far state support for the arts has fallen under the leadership of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback.
In its 2010 annual report, the Kansas Arts Commission noted that, despite downturns in the economy, the agency was able to provide nearly $1.6 million in grants to organizations and artists. Those grants went to 299 organizations, government agencies and individuals in 59 different Kansas counties.
The annual report for 2010 was the last one available for the commission, which was founded in 1966. Brownback took office in January 2011, and by the end of fiscal year 2011, the Kansas Arts Commission was in shambles. The governor first abolished the commission by executive order. After his action was overridden by state legislators, he retaliated by vetoing all funding for the agency. The next year, he folded the Arts Commission and the Kansas Film Commission into a new entity called the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission, but never provided adequate funding for either endeavor.
The new entity made no grants for the arts last year. In a feeble attempt to restore some of the $1.3 million in regional and federal matching funds the state had lost, the new commission carried over enough money to fund the grants that were announced Tuesday. It remains to be seen whether the state’s paltry investment will meet the requirements for matching funds from the Mid-American Arts Alliance and the National Endowment for the Arts. Those agencies are unlikely to overlook the fact that the recent grants were made from leftover funds from a $700,000 budget allocation last year, an amount that has been sliced to $200,000 for the current year. That doesn’t bode well for a sustained arts effort in Kansas.
The huge reduction in grants is easy to quantify, but the Kansas Arts Commission was far more than a pass-through agency for arts funding. The 2010 annual report notes other important activities, including business development workshops, consultations on arts management and community development through the arts. Before it came under attack, the Arts Commission acted as a clearinghouse for information and non-financial support for artists and arts agencies across the state. The commission no longer has the funding or the staff to provide that kind of support to a nonprofit arts and cultural industry that it estimated in 2010 contributed $153.5 million to the Kansas economy.
That’s why it’s so sad to see the vibrant program of the Kansas Arts Commission reduced to $58,000 in grants, mostly for physical improvements to buildings. Henry Schwaller, a Hays resident who served as chairman of the Arts Commission board in 2010 and also serves on the new agency’s board, tried to express some optimism for the future saying that although the state had lost millions, “at least we are starting back from scratch.”
Kansas should hope that his optimism is justified, but the last two years have surely dimmed those prospects.