Kansas Governor Does a 180 – Restores Arts Funding

Last year, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback stunned the national arts community by vetoing funding for the Kansas Arts Commission.  Brownback recently changed his mind and approved a state budget that includes $700,000 for a newly created Creative Arts Industries Commission.

“It’s a big win for Kansas,” said Sarah Fizell of Kansas Citizens for the Arts.  Brownback rebelled against legislators by vetoing a $689,000 appropriation for the Arts Commission, claiming that public tax dollars should not go to the arts.  The veto made Kansas the first state to defund the arts; as a result, the state sacrificed $1.3 million in federal and regional matching funds.  The veto led to a chorus of disapproval and reports that many arts initiatives, especially in rural areas, had to cut back on their activities.

Nearly 200 local arts organizations and artists lost critical support for local arts programs, operational funding and professional development.  “In difficult fiscal times such as these, the state must prioritize how to spend its limited resources and focus its attention on providing core services,” Brownback told legislators.  In the words of Robert Lynch, CEO of Washington-based lobbyist group, Americans for the Arts, “Kansas has now become a huge outlier.  It’s the only such decision made this year or in the past 50 years.”  Strong support for eliminating the Kansas Arts Commission came from the local branch of Americans for Prosperity (AFP), an anti-tax group founded by billionaire oilman David Koch, whose Koch Industries is based in Wichita.

In a June 22, 2011, blog for the Huffington Post, I wrote “Why publicly support the arts when the debt’s hitting its head against a $14 trillion ceiling and unemployment’s at nine percent?  Well, for one thing, America’s non-profit arts and culture industry generates $166.2 billion in economic activity every year, according to a 2007 study by Americans for the Arts.  This includes $63.1 billion in spending by organizations (that’s twice as much as aerospace) and an additional $103.1 billion in event-related spending by audiences.  The national impact of this activity is significant, supporting 5.7 million jobs and generating $29.6 billion in government revenue.  Overall, the for-profit and non-profit culture industry generate nearly $30 billion in revenue to local, state and federal governments every year.  By comparison, the three levels of government collectively spend less than $4 billion annually to support arts and culture — a spectacular 7:1 return on investment; try getting that in mutual funds.  Want to get America working?  The non-profit arts and culture organizations support more jobs than there are accountants, auditors, public safety officers, even lawyers and just slightly fewer jobs than the elementary school teacher sector.  Simply put, artists are workers — real jobs that generate real value to our society.”

One year later, Brownback appears to have changed his mind on public funding for the arts.  At the start of the 2012 legislative session, he proposed merging the unfunded Arts Commission and the Kansas Film Commission into a single entity overseen by the Kansas Department of Commerce.  Additionally, he proposed granting $200,000 from the Economic Development Initiatives Fund, which comes from gaming revenue.  Legislators raised that allocation to $700,000, which is what was ultimately approved.  Another bill created a check-off where Kansans can donate to the arts on their state income tax form.

The use of gaming revenues will count as public funds as a way to attract grants from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).  According to Fizell, several other states use a similar funding model.  If Kansas finalizes and submits its arts plan, it could start receiving matching funds in July, 2013.  Fizell is relieved that the battle over arts funding seems to have ended.  “It was solved in a way that was very collaborative.  I think publicly funded art is important for the state of Kansas, and this was an enormous effort by the advocates across the state who made this happen,” she said.