Gallery director resigns from arts agency

By Paul Harris

Jay Nelson had been pondering the decision for a year. But after realizing that he was not going to change the judgment of Gov. Sam Brownback, Nelson announced Thursday he has decided to resign his seat on the board of directors of the Kansas Arts Commission. He characterized his action as a protest against Brownback’s arts policies.

Nelson, director of the Strecker-Nelson gallery in Manhattan, was one of two local members of the Commission, the other being chairperson Linda Weis.

The Commission is a 12-member body whose members are appointed by the governor and who historically have been responsible for assessing applications for state arts grants. Earlier his year, however, Brownback eliminated that state arts funding, citing economic reasons. In its place, he appointed a Kansas Arts Foundation to oversee private arts fund-raising efforts, with Weis as its chairperson as well.

Interviewed by the Kansas City Star, Brownback said recently he still thinks private funding of the arts is the best method, but he conceded that the method has not worked so far. Weis said she had not seen the letter and could not react.

Nelson does not buy Brownback’s argument that his actions are budget-driven. Asserting that the commission costs Kansas taxpayers 29 cents, he cited a different motive.

“It goes back to the cultural wars of the 1980s,” Nelson said. “There was an exhibit in New York titled ‘Sensation.’ The artist had a crucifix in a jar of urine. There was an outcry that the government could not fund it because it’s sacrilegious.” Nelson said cutting funding to the arts commission “is part of a conservative Christian agenda.”

While Nelson, an appointee of former Gov. Mark Parkinson, is unhappy about the direction of the arts under Brownback, he is bittersweet about his decision to leave. “Before Governor Brownback came in, it was a very well-run organization,” Nelson said.

“We had a good president, money was very carefully spent. He (Brownback) makes a big deal out of so much money was going to the staff, but I will can tell you that it takes that amount of staff to run the program.”

In a letter announcing his resignation (see today’s editorial page), Nelson urged citizens to support local arts foundations instead of donating money to the state foundation.

“That’s like throwing your money down a rabbit hole,” Nelson said.

The National Arts Endowment has already said that they will not be giving any matching grants to the Kansas Arts Foundation.

“You have to show a steady funding to qualify,” Nelson said. “They are looking for a long-term legitimate option.”

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