State arts funding climb will be steep

$58,000 is a start, but a small one

By The Mercury

In light of the state’s recent issuance of grants totaling $58,400 to eight organizations, including $4,000 to one in Wamego, we’d like to consider the cup half full with regard to state arts funding in Kansas.

But we’re not there yet. We’re not even close. The $58,400 is welcome, certainly, but it’s a mere drop in the glass compared to the almost $2 million that the arts received from the state and from federal and matching grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Mid-America Arts Alliance before Gov. Sam Brownback effectively killed state arts support in his first year in office. He did that by vetoing a $700,000 appropriation approved by both houses of the Legislature and by dismantling the Kansas Arts Commission.

The year before the governor took office, the Kansas Arts Commission provided more than $1.5 million to 299 artists and arts organizations in Kansas, including several in the Flint Hills. Legislators attempted to rescue the commission, but the governor ended up merging what was left of it with the Kansas Film Commission to form the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission.

It’s but a shadow of the Kansas Arts Commission, which in addition to serving as a pass through agency for state and regional grant money, demonstrated considerable initiative in fostering the arts in communities statewide in ways that didn’t always include money. It was integral to the vibrant arts and cultural industry that contributed an estimated $150 million a year to the Kansas economy.

Henry Schwaller, a Hays resident, is more aware than most Kansans about what the state has lost. He is a member of the present arts board and was chairman of the Kansas Arts Commission before the governor did away with it.  “We lost millions of dollars in the process, but at least we are starting back from scratch,” he said.

The climb back will be long and steep. Although the Legislature approved $700,000 for this fiscal year, the figure was slashed to $200,000.

Whether that sum will demonstrate enough of a commitment to the arts to persuade the National Endowment for the Arts and the Mid-America Arts Alliance to again match state funds for programs and projects isn’t yet known. But the $58,400 in recently announced grants won’t likely be very persuasive; neither will the $6,500 distributed by the separate Kansas Arts Foundation..

As Mr. Schwaller observed, the $58,400 is a start. But it will mean little without considerable follow through.

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