The Arts in Kansas took a heavy blow Monday when Gov. Sam Brownback signed an “executive reorganization order” abolishing the Kansas Arts Commission, transferring the state agency’s responsibilities to the Kansas Historical Society. The governor is also proposing cutting the arts budget from around $800,000 to $200,000, which will be used to assist in the transition from a state agency into a private organization, the newly-formed Kansas Arts Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. (It is unclear if this organization actually has its non-profit status, or will need to apply for it, a process that can take a year or more.)
This is sad news on several fronts.
Last year, Americans for the Arts and state arts advocates defeated six serious attempts to eliminate state arts councils across the country. If the Kansas legislature fails to overrule the governor’s order, Kansas will be the first state in decades to not have a state arts council.
To make matters worse, the governor misunderstands the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) matching guidelines. For some reason, he feels that the NEA will continue to provide Kansas with approximately $800,000 even though the state is only appropriating $200,000. Further, it is unclear who would be in charge of the “old” functions of the Kansas Arts Council; if this person would be an arts professional; and, if this group would provide grants to the field. All are requirements of matching funds from the NEA.
Gov. Brownback states that closing the arts commission will save the state $600,000. What he fails to realize is the state will lose $800,000 from the NEA, and around $435,000 in indirect grants from the Mid-America Arts Alliance that is used to provide jobs and spur economic activity. Also, with no arts grants being awarded to the field, the state will lose tax revenues from lost performances and other events from organizations who have to scale back or cancel performances all together.
A couple of weeks ago, I received a call from Kansas Rep. Lana Gordon, a member of the appropriations committee, asking me for research and other useful information to help her try to save the Kansas Arts Commission. I last chatted with her via email yesterday afternoon, and she let me know that the committee that she chairs was planning to hold a hearing on the arts commission closure yesterday, hoping to work with the members of the committee to block the governor’s actions. Stay tuned on how the hearing turns out.
As we have done many times over the years, Americans for the Arts has been working closely with the Kansas Citizens for the Arts to help save the Kansas Arts Commission, and if you live in Kansas, I urge you to write to Gov. Brownback and your state legislators to let them know you oppose these actions.
If you are in one of the many states where your state arts agency is under budgetary fire, I would recommend joining your statewide arts and/or arts education advocacy organization, as they are best equipped to help spur major cuts or elimination. You can find links to those organizations on our website. You can also find out more about state-level arts advocacy by reading our toolkit.