Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Editorial: Loss of Kansas Arts Funding

originally published in the Lawrence Journal-World
November 17, 2015

The state’s lack of investment in the arts once again has put Kansas in danger of losing federal funding distributed through the National Endowment for the Arts. Unless the state agrees to add about $225,000 to its arts budget for the current fiscal year, it will fall short of the minimum state investment to qualify for about $591,000 in federal matching funds. The potential loss of those funds will have a devastating impact on arts organizations across the state, especially those in smaller communities that have less ability to raise local funds. 

Even if the state weren’t facing its current financial challenges, it’s doubtful that Gov. Sam Brownback would advocate more arts funding. In his first year in office, he vetoed all funding for the Kansas Arts Commission, causing NEA to cut off federal funds in 2011. Legislators allocated $700,000 for the arts in 2012, but that amount has declined to just $190,000 this year for what now is called the Creative Arts Industries Commission. The state hopes to raise an additional $58,000 from an income-tax checkoff and the sale of special license plates to support the arts in Kansas, but those efforts combined will total about $248,000, just over half of what the state needs to qualify for NEA funds.

When Brownback vetoed funding in 2011, he said that tax dollars shouldn’t be used to support the arts because it isn’t a “core” function of government. He then created the Kansas Arts Foundation, a private nonprofit group, to support the arts. From all indications, that group has done almost nothing to fill the gap. Its website includes a Sept. 25, 2014, news release announcing three grant awards in the state; no dollar amounts were given. No grants were listed for this year. Those who might like to seek a grant from the organization are referred to a link that informs them that the foundation “is excited to announce a 2.6 million dollar fundraising campaign to secure an endowment to sustain funding for the future! … As a result, all grant applications are suspended at this time.”

The state has until Jan. 15 — four days after the beginning of the 2016 legislative session — to come up with additional funding. Between now and then, the Department of Commerce says it will try to work with other state agencies to document any direct or in-kind contributions to the arts that might be used to justify the NEA matching funds. It will be interesting to see what state officials are able to cobble together — and whether it in any way meets the NEA requirements.

Arts are an important part of our quality of life, but, according to the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, Kansas allocated less per-capita funding to the arts in the current fiscal year than any other state except Arizona. That’s a statistic that should make state officials ashamed enough to step up and scrape together at least the minimum funding needed to maintain federal NEA support.