A decision to create a new city position to oversee arts and culture efforts in Lawrence should be considered as part of the city’s overall budget discussions, not pushed through in the middle of the year to meet a deadline for a grant application.
The Lawrence City Commission will be asked tonight to approve an application to the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission for a $75,000 grant for a project that would run from July 2014 through June 2015. The basis for the grant application is a report from Lawrence’s Cultural District Task Force, which recommended that the city complete a city-wide cultural plan. To complete and implement that plan, the task force recommended creating a new city position, the director of arts and culture.
The cost of creating that position (salary plus benefits) is set at $75,000, of which the grant would pay $25,000. By supporting the grant request, the city would be agreeing to pay $50,000 of that position plus $10,000 toward completing the cultural plan. That would cover the costs through June 2015, after which, the art and culture director’s salary, along with any associated staff or office expenses, likely would be folded permanently into the city’s budget.
As pointed out in this space last month, this situation is not unlike a 2012 request to create a new staff position to guide the community’s efforts to attract retirees to Lawrence. City commissioners wisely denied that request and instead folded those duties into an existing agency, Douglas County Senior Services. Rather than duplicate the efforts of the city’s central arts agency, the Lawrence Arts Center, why not fold the duties of the proposed director of arts and culture into the Arts Center’s charge?
If a person needs to be hired to oversee the completion of the cultural plan, why not hire a consultant for a year to concentrate on that work rather than create a city new position?
As we also pointed out last month, arts and culture is just one of many community priorities that would benefit from having a full-time paid city staff member. For that reason, commissioners should defer the request for a new director of arts and culture and consider it along with all the other requests for funding that will face city officials during budget discussions later this year.