Arts license plates a timely idea

By Walt Braun

“State of the Arts,” the slogan that will appear on new Kansas specialty license plates, is certainly more upbeat than, “The State That Won’t Fund the Arts.”

The state of the arts in Kansas has been uncertain since Gov. Sam Brownback last spring vetoed an appropriation for the arts approved by bipartisan majorities in both houses of the Legislature.

Though we strongly disagreed with that veto, we hope the new “State of the Arts” license plates can help the Kansas Arts Commission contribute needed funding to arts programs across the state through private rather than state money.

The specialty plates, designed by Lawrence artist Amanda Warren, certainly are attractive. They feature shocks of golden wheat growing under a stylized sun and nine white stars against a dark blue background; the plates’ numbers are white.

When they become available next month, the new plates will cost $100 more than standard license plates. Of the extra $100 for arts programs, $25 will go toward programs in the counties where the plates are purchased. That’s good. The plates will likely have plenty of appeal for citizens who enjoy patronizing the arts and are in a position to offer support.

As a story in Tuesday’s Mercury explained, the new campaign has several goals: to make Kansans more aware of arts funding efforts, to unify arts communities across the state in support of the campaign and to provide a new source of funding for local programs.

The commission hopes to sell 4,000 plates, though we suspect — and hope — that number will be exceeded. Meeting that goal would raise $400,000; that’s an impressive sum, but one that falls far short of the $689,000 state appropriation that Gov. Brownback vetoed when he made Kansas the only state in the Union that doesn’t contribute to the arts. Also forfeited with that veto was about $1.3 million from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Mid-American Arts Alliance, both of which halted funding as a result of the veto.

The “State of the Arts” license plates, which will join about two dozen other specialty plates in Kansas, aren’t a new idea. Other states have used them to generate arts funding, and the idea has been in the works in Kansas for several years.

In this state, it’s an idea whose time has clearly come.

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