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A New Chapter for the Arts in Kansas

Brad Anderson

On Saturday, May 28, 2011, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback used his power to line item veto funding for the Kansas Arts Commission. This action makes Kansas unique in the nation as now being the only state without a fully funded and functional arts agency.

The action came after months of heated debate between a conservative house of representatives and more moderate senate that finally agreed to continue funding for at least another year. Brownback had other plans.

Not only does his action prevent over $1.2 million in National Endowment for the Arts and Mid-America Arts Alliance funding, it also creates significant problems for agencies all over the state who were depending on operational support that comes from the KAC and NEA.

Brownback suggests the arts can thrive by developing private funding sources to sustain programming but has yet to answer where the ‘new’ dollars are supposed to come from and does not take in to account the significant support many large and small agencies have already solicited from the private sector. 

This is probably not new information for most who are reading this. The arts are often vulnerable during times of economic downturn. Plenty of excellent arguments can be made for the importance of the arts as a way for us to retain our humanity. These ideas were the foundation of the WPA dating back to the Great Depression.

There is plenty of documented evidence regarding the economic impact of the arts in communities, and the role they play in the fiscal security of both large and small towns. Despite all this the arts continue to be an easy target for politicians and for numerous reasons the cultural community continues to be something some citizens “love to hate.”

Despite the negativity that many communities, artists, programs, and agencies, will face and the difficult times ahead for Kansas, I can not help but feel that this is yet another opportunity for the cultural community to come together and solve this problem in a unique and creative way.

Already Kansas Citizens for the Arts and the commissioners of the Kansas Arts Commission are discussing how to maintain the energy and integrity that has come to describe the creative spirit of Kansas. The broad-based groundswell of support that stood against the governor’s decision has gained momentum and will help provide the drive to move citizens forward towards a successful solution to this problem.

Those working to save the KAC can only be proud of the excellent and positive way they portrayed their cause and the highly professional approaches they used. Rallies, social networking, letter writing, phone calls, direct communication with legislators, and even mailing quarters to the governor (as a symbol of how much arts funding costs per person each year) were effective in raising awareness and helping develop momentum.

While it may be easy to focus on defeat, this is an opportunity for the citizens of Kansas to show just how resilient the pioneer spirit is that settled this state.

It is time to roll up our sleeves, put our head down and push ahead. There are few memorable examples of great things just getting greater. There are far more examples of people facing adversity with conviction and determination to hold on to what is essential, and do everything in their power to protect and defend its existence.

The journey will not be easy, but I believe in the hearts and minds of the people of Kansas to find a way to emerge from this setback even stronger than when we entered it. The arts will not roll over. They are here to stay.

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