Kansas Arts Budget Restoration Builds Goodwill

Republican Gov. Sam Brownback has always said he supports the arts, but when the state was facing a tight budget last year, he said Kansas needed to cut back.

“As we look to grow Kansas’ economy and focus state government resources to ensure the most efficient use of taxpayer dollars, we must do all we can to protect the core functions of state government,” he said.

Arts supporters did not take kindly to the proposal.

“We deserve and require the gifts that art brings to our lives,” said one arts advocate. “And at 29 cents per year per Kansan, it’s a bargain.”

A rally opposing the cut drew hundreds to the Statehouse last year, and this year Brownback’s administration changed course, proposing a new group called the Creative Arts Industries Commission. The governor’s office says the focus of the new organization will be economic growth through art. Eliminating state funding last year affected hundreds of organizations, like the Lawrence Arts Center.

Dozens of children, mostly grade-school and middle-school age, are flooding into the arts center on a recent day for summer programs. Just down the hall, about 50 children are practicing a song from the Wizard of Oz.

This arts center sustained a $24,000 cut and Margaret Morris says it had to cut a handful of jobs, and find private funds to help cover the loss. She says it can be easier to find money to help sponsor high-profile programs and children’s programs, but it’s more difficult to pay day-to-day costs.

“The hard place to find money for is things like toilet paper, paper towels, electricity bill, your water, things like that,” Morris says. “So that’s where that Kansas Arts Commission money really came into play for a lot of places.”

When the state cut around $700,000 in funding, it meant that Kansas was no longer eligible for more than a million dollars in matching funds from the federal government and a regional arts agency. Some smaller arts groups are still struggling.

“It was a big impact for us, and actually, for this next year, we will be operating at a 10 percent deficit for the first time in the history of the choir,” says Jane Roesner Graves, executive director of the Lawrence Children’s Choir.

Her group will soon be asking the City of Lawrence for money to help cover the shortfall.

Sarah Fizell, with the advocacy group Kansas Citizens for the Arts, stands in the Kansas Statehouse in front of a massive mural of the abolitionist John Brown.

“[This is] very much an example of how the people spoke and their voices were heard,” says Sarah Fizell, with the advocacy group Kansas Citizens for the Arts, as she stands in the Kansas Statehouse in front of a massive mural of the abolitionist John Brown.

“I mean, this was thousands of advocates who worked really hard over the last year-and-a-half to explain why the arts were important in their communities, to explain what this meant in their lives. And I really believe that that voice was heard by the governor and by legislators.”

But there’s still plenty of uncertainty. The move puts Kansas back on track to restore matching funds, but the new organization has to be assembled and apply for the funding, and arts groups could still have a difficult year ahead. Kansas likely won’t be eligible for arts matching funds until mid 2013.

Copyright 2012 Kansas Public Radio. To see more, visit http://kpr.ku.edu.