Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Kansas Arts Commission

Dear Governor Brownback,

As a former director of the Kansas Arts Commission (KAC), I’m writing to urge you to join with the legislature in supporting the mission and budget of that effective public agency.

I served Governors Docking and Bennett, a democrat and a republican, in the 1970’s.  The mission of the KAC, to provide opportunities for the people of Kansas to experience, celebrate and value the arts throughout their lives, has always received broad bipartisan support.  Chairs of the KAC to whom I reported included Martin Umansky, president of the ABC television affiliate in Wichita, Wichita attorney Philip Leon, and Camilla Cave, whose family managed the grain elevator in Dodge. These business and civic leaders, and their colleague commissioners, made it clear to me that our primary public purpose was to help solve a statewide problem. Children everywhere in the state were going to college in Kansas, then leaving the state and not coming back. Moreover, communities could not attract doctors, lawyers, dentists, and new businesses. The problem, they said, was not the economy – it was the quality of community cultural life available.  Students learn to enjoy the arts, and professional people who make career and investment decisions take cultural opportunities into consideration.

During its 45-year history, the KAC has created jobs and increased arts activities. Before the KAC brought statewide leadership to forming local arts councils there were less than five. That number grew to 40 during my years in Kansas, and then to 80. Festivals, arts groups, arts center construction, jobs for artists and others supplying them, downtown revitalization, and community cultural plans proliferated in towns and cities all over the state. In all, 135 groups representing many hundreds of jobs for artists and other workers have applied this year for operational support grants, and that is only one KAC program.   KAC success has attracted community support and federal dollars, which have matched many times over the state investment.  Governors of Kansas have always been expected to make hard budget decisions and they have always understood that the KAC represents an investment that leverages state funding and pays off handsomely in jobs and net tax revenue. For 0.005% of the state’s $13.8 billion budget – one half of one hundredth of one percent, which is conservative investment by any objective measure – you can keep these benefits flowing to Kansas communities who need every possible economic asset available to them in these hard times.

I’ve heard the idea that a private foundation with little or no state funding could be as effective as the KAC. There’s no factual basis for thinking that. Why create a new organization that would have to compete with artists and cultural groups for funding?  Why start from scratch when KAC commissioners and staff have demonstrated their capacity to manage statewide planning and programs that satisfy state and federal accountability standards? The KAC brought in $778,200 to the state from the NEA this year to support Kansas jobs, artists and cultural groups. Absent a state arts agency that matches NEA funds with state dollars and has demonstrated accountable public planning, that federal money will go to support jobs and activities in other states.  Kansas could also lose the $437,767 the KAC brought in from its regional partner, the Mid-America Arts Alliance. The net loss to Kansas if the appropriation to the KAC is not preserved will far exceed the $689,000 recommended by the legislature. Vetoing it will achieve no net “savings” for Kansas communities.

I am currently the CEO of the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, which gives me a unique perspective on the truly formidable budget challenges facing most states – and the value that the other states are finding from continuing to fund the arts. But I am writing this letter today as a former KAC director and former Kansas resident, taxpayer and voter, one who knows firsthand how good life in the Sunflower State can be, and how much communities stand to lose if their state arts agency is not funded.

The legislature has already spoken on this issue twice and has clearly responded to the wishes of their – and your – constituents. Now, it’s your turn, Governor Brownback, to make news by doing what both the legislators and the people want, and what’s best for the future of Kansas – supporting the mission, public purpose, and budget of the Kansas Arts Commission.

Thank you for your time and attention,

Jonathan Katz
914 Larch Avenue
Takoma Park, MD  20912
(301) 891-2587

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