Editorial: Arts demise

The paltry grants announced earlier this week offer little hope for future state support of the arts in Kansas.

July 12, 2013


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.


Centerville 4 years, 10 months ago

So, now even $58,000 in taxpayer money is beneath contempt when it comes to funding the local art bureaucracy. Here's my conceptual art idea for what to do with that insultingly small amount of money: Change it all into $100 bills, set up a table downtown, and give $100 to the first 580 people who show proof with their 2103 Kansas Income Tax forms that they paid into it. Cost to taxpayer: Zero, which makes it an even more worthy project.

Centerville 4 years, 10 months ago

$58,000 is a lot of money but, not enough, apparently, to keep the government-run art industry from whining. Maybe this editorial is some sort of wacky conceptual art piece.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 10 months ago

The Brownback political campaign is under way. Keep that in mind.

TalkSense 4 years, 10 months ago

Centerville doesn't understand. The intentional and short-sighted destruction of the Kansas Arts Commission is a tragedy primarily for the many small-town arts-related groups for whom even a modest state grant had a major impact. I'm not worried about the arts in Lawrence. We have many groups that have access to long lists of generous donors, active volunteers, KU resources, city funding, and other assets. The already struggling small towns that dot the Kansas landscape have almost none of that and their tiny arts-related groups are likely to dry up and disappear. The Kansas Arts Commission - whose budget was never extravagant - leveraged modest local resources strategically to enhance the economic impact of the arts as well as the quality of life throughout Kansas. All of that is now gone and may be impossible to rebuild.

Miles Nease 4 years, 10 months ago

You could have stopped after your first sentence, "Centerville doesn't understand."

frank mcguinness 4 years, 10 months ago

I agree BUT why are conservatives up in arms when government programs lose money but then they want to eliminate programs that MAKE money. It make no sense to me that the state should eliminate any programs that make money for itself and it's businesses and therefore reduce the overall tax burden for us citizens. Don't you see it cost you and me more in tax dollars because we now have to subsidize programs that were paid for by this great business opportunity. Got it?

frank mcguinness 4 years, 10 months ago

Why is this so hard for people to understand? I will make this as simple as possible to understand.
Kansas spends: 2 Million dollars on Arts. Kansas Economy receives: 153 Million dollars in the economy. Kansas taxes earnings at lets say 5%: 7.65 Million Dollars in revenue. So here is the results...... The state spends 2 million to make 7.65 Million and the rest of Kansas businesses get 145 Million. I am not sure that even drug dealers get that kind of return on investments.
Why is this a bad thing again?

Centerville 4 years, 10 months ago

"The Kansas Arts Commission - whose budget was never extravagant - leveraged modest local resources strategically to enhance the economic impact of the arts as well as the quality of life throughout Kansas," said the application for more of Kansans' hard-earned money.

asixbury 4 years, 10 months ago

Birger Sandzen had the support of the local community, Lindsborg, backing him...so your arguement is invalid. The arts funding, as it was before Brownback destroyed it, did not cost the average taxpayer much at all...about $0.25 a year by a study shown on this website back when it was destroyed.

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