Statehouse Live: Kansas alone in defunding the arts, national group says

Van Go Jams artist Trianna Elliott, 17, touches up the paint on a container she designed as work ensues Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011, at Van Go Inc., 715 N.J. According to a report released by the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, Kansas is the only state to defund its arts commission. Van Go is one of several local arts organizations that previously received some funding from the Kansas Arts Commission. At right is Emily Moreland, 17.

? A national arts organization on Wednesday said that despite budget problems across the United States, Kansas was the only state to eliminate state funding of the arts.

“Like most areas of state spending, public appropriations to the arts have seen periods of growth and decline tied to state budget conditions. However, no state other than Kansas has responded to a recession by eliminating all public funding for its state arts agency,” according to the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies.

The group represents 56 state and jurisdictional arts agencies in the country and submitted its written testimony to the House-Senate Committee on Arts and Cultural Resources.

The group also argued in favor of public funding of the arts, saying it helped promote a desirable quality of life, created jobs and encouraged artists and arts organizations to serve the public.

“Using public dollars to finance the work of a state arts agency also avoids the significant drawback of the state putting itself in competition with constituents for private contributions,” the group said.

Gov. Sam Brownback vetoed all state funding — $689,000 — to the arts for the current fiscal year above the protests of many legislators and arts organizations statewide. Brownback said funding of the arts was not a core function of state government and said the state dollars could be replaced by private fundraising. The veto also cost the state $1.2 million in matching funds.

Four months after Brownback’s veto, numerous arts programs and events have been cut back, the Kansas Arts Commission is down to $5,000 and the ability to leverage federal funds is nowhere in sight.

But Brownback’s appointees to the Kansas Arts Commission, which still exists in state statute despite the veto, and the leader of the Kansas Arts Foundation, a nonprofit organization to raise funds privately for the arts, defended the new system.

“We are building a strong foundation on which the arts of the state of Kansas may depend for future generations,” said Linda Browning Weis, who is both chairwoman of the Arts Commission and president of the Kansas Arts Foundation.

Weis said the Arts Foundation last month received nonprofit status, which should boost private donations.

Kathy Herzog, vice chair of the Arts Commission, said the commission has about $5,000 left in its account. And although it has no staff, she said the commission is working tirelessly to put in place a plan to provide funding for arts projects.

Weis and Herzog on Wednesday gave an update to the Arts and Cultural Resources panel.

But some legislators voiced concerns and expressed skepticism.

Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, said events across the state have been cut back because of the loss of state funding and matching federal dollars.

“It’s statewide, and that is one of the reasons why people are so concerned that there is no funding for these community efforts,” Schodorf said.

The Mid-America Arts Alliance confirmed that many organizations were struggling.

“Kansas arts and culture agencies from Overland Park to Goodland, from Ark City to Bonner Springs, to your hometowns of Clay Center, Lawrence, Lenexa, Manhattan, Olathe, Thayer and Wichita, will not have the same access to the arts and arts education opportunities they’ve had in the past,” said Mary Kennedy McCabe, executive director of the Mid-America Arts Alliance.

“And without operating grants from the Kansas Arts Commission, a significant number of these organizations may be forced to close, even if they are fortunate enough to secure scarce private funds for an exhibition, performance or school outreach program,” she said.

Rep. Vern Swanson, R-Clay Center, said he was concerned about the current structure of the Arts Commission and Arts Foundation since several people served on both boards.

But Weis said, “There is no connection.” She said there will be no discussion of Arts Commission business with the Arts Foundation. The foundation will provide privately raised funding and the commission will determine what groups get funding, she said.

A group called Kansas Citizens for the Arts has formed, urging legislators to restore funding to the Arts Commission in the next legislative session.

Sarah Fizell, executive administrator for the group, said she hoped a solution to the funding cut can be reached “that arts advocates as well as public and private funders can stand behind.”