The Biggest Losers: The People of Kansas

Late last week, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback line item vetoed appropriations for the Kansas Arts Commission in the 2012 state budget. KAC staff has already been given pink slips. Unless the Legislature over-rides this veto, which is not likely based on what I’ve read, Kansas will be the first state to eliminate its state arts agency since the inception of these offices in every state in the late 60’s. I could go on about the state of arts advocacy but I’ll let you read Barry Hessenius’ blog.

This isn’t about the money. The dollar amount is one half of one hundredth of a percent of the state budge. But the message is clear. Taxpayers don’t deserve support in their communities for arts events, children don’t need professional artist residencies and programs in their schools and creative industries and artists (unlike agriculture, education, transportation, communication, human services and energy to name a few) don’t need the slightest of governmental economic incentives or investment.

Executive director of the National Assembly of State Arts Agency, Jonathan Katz wrote: “The "savings" justifications cited as a rationale for this veto do not reflect the real mathematics of what the state gains through the Kansas Arts Commission. The real poverty expressed in the governor's action is not of the pocketbook; it is of understanding and appreciating the value of the state's cultural life.”

What sickens me most about this decision is that it will hurt in places that need it most. Brownback believes, or at least he says he does, that the private sector can pick up the difference in state and federal funding in his state. Does he know he’s in Kansas? Does he think that corporations and private foundations (of which there are few) will care about giving $500 to an arts fair or main street gallery in communities like Pratt, Lakin, St. Francis or Parsons? Does he understand that support with taxpayer’s dollars means access for children to see a string quartet in a school that has no orchestra program in a town without an orchestra? Clearly he does not.

This decision only perpetuates the stereotype that if you are a “real” artist you wouldn’t live in a place like Kansas or Nebraska, or Missouri or South Dakota. The myth that the Midwest is a vast wasteland of culture lives on in Brownback’s veto. Having spent most of my life in the Midwest, I can tell you it is not a wasteland but I can also tell you that it isn’t easy being an artist, being an arts education advocate or keeping theatres, galleries and museums alive in places with small populations and without resources, businesses or jobs.

In 1995, Garrison Keillor spoke before the Senate Subcommittee on Education, Arts and Humanities in support of funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. He said “Today, in every city and state, when Americans talk up their home town, invariably they mention the arts, a local orchestra or theater or museum or all three. It didn’t use to be this way. Forty years ago, if an American meant to have an artistic career, you got on the train to New York. Today, you can be a violinist in North Carolina, a writer in Iowa, a painter in Kansas. Today, no American family can be secure against the danger that one of its children may decide to become an artist.”

Well, Toto, if you’re a painter, you might be glad you’re not in Kansas anymore. And the people of Kansas will be the biggest losers because you’re gone. I sent the Governor an email stating this and I hope you will too.