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Kansas Makes a Fashion Statement

Harlan Brownlee

Once again, Kansas has distinguished itself as a “trendsetter.”

Yes, those are the words of Kansas Governor Brownback when he refers to his action to eliminate the Kansas Arts Commission and put in place a private foundation to fund the arts in Kansas.

Sorry to break the news governor, but those of us who live and breathe the arts on a daily basis, those of us who are in the trenches and have witnessed firsthand the economic and community building benefits of the arts, particularly in rural Kansas, think your approach is misguided.

Both the Kansas House and Senate understood why your plan was not in the best interest of Kansas citizens. In fact, both unilaterally approved funding for the arts and a Republican-led effort in the Senate overrode your executive order to eliminate the Kansas Arts Commission.

But did you listen to the people of your state and the well reasoned arguments they made? Did you listen to the open letter from Alexander L. Aldrich, executive director of the Vermont Arts Council, telling you that you had it wrong — the Vermont Arts Council does receive state funding?

There are creative individuals raised in Kansas that would prefer to stay in Kansas, but a lack of state support for the arts makes other communities more attractive. Did you listen to the people that you are charged to represent?

No, with a stroke of the pen, you wiped out thousands of jobs and creative opportunities for your constituents, both young and old. With a stroke of your pen you wiped out over a million dollars in national and regional matching funds for the state of Kansas.

You also refused to debate or discuss the issue and then went on record around the state telling us you supported tourism. I heard an interview on NPR in which you extolled the virtues of the symphony in the Flint Hills program after you had just recently furloughed the entire staff of the Kansas Arts Commission, which, by the way, funds the very symphony program you praised.

You claim to support tourism and artistic presentations for their economic impact, but you believe in eliminating the Kansas Arts Commission in the name of fiscal responsibility. The Kansas Arts Commission allocation represents just .005 percent of the state budget. You say you want to create jobs and increase state revenues, but you eliminate opportunities to develop creativity, innovation, and job growth.

I think the real issue here is not the arts, but one of political aspirations and convenience at the expense of those who cannot defend themselves.

Like the lioness that assesses the herd looking for the most vulnerable prey before striking, thus assuring the kill, you have targeted the arts because it makes you look like a fiscal hardliner and you win political points with minor collateral damage. This is a battle of ideology not fiscal responsibility.

You decided that government has no business funding the arts, that it is not a core function of government and despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and even the objections of your own party members, you have done substantial harm to the state that you are supposed to protect and nurture.

Let’s hope that your “fashion statement” is not a trend and true fiscal responsibility and smart investments in Kansas return.

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