Tuesday, September 02, 2014

HAWVER: Kansas: State of the arts?

By MARTIN HAWVER, At the Rail | 9/2/2013

For all the gnashing of teeth and rending of what we assume were designer-label garments when then brand-new Gov. Sam Brownback said he was going to end state general fund financing of the Kansas Arts Commission ... well, there are still arts in Kansas.

You remember that just-after-the-inauguration statement from Brownback that arts should support themselves with money that didn’t come out of the state budget. Well, it appears that the arts can.

For all the gnashing of teeth and rending of what we assume were designer-label garments when then brand-new Gov. Sam Brownback said he was going to end state general fund financing of the Kansas Arts Commission ... well, there are still arts in Kansas.

You remember that just-after-the-inauguration statement from Brownback that arts should support themselves with money that didn’t come out of the state budget. Well, it appears that the arts can.

It, of course, was easier when it was just $700,000 out of the state general fund, where the state puts our tax dollars, an amount so small in the overall budget that it was almost imperceptible.

But a couple of things — including the Brownback/fiscal conservative crowd retooling the arts commission, which sounded like a white wine crowd, into the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission — might just work.

The Arts Industries Commission — doesn’t have a real artistic ring, does it? — not only landed a $560,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts but is unveiling a distinctive license tag for statewide sale that will further help finance the arts in the state.

And, maybe because of the new letterhead, nearly everything the administration puts out about the new commission reminds us of the Brownback perception of the role of arts in Kansas — “to strengthen the state’s economy and create good jobs.”

That eco-devo mantra probably sounds unfamiliar to parents of college kids studying arts who are likely to wind up living in their basement, but who’d have thought that a little interpretative dance or oil on canvas would “strengthen the state’s economy and create good jobs”?

Yes, there are dollars in arts. It is produced and bought and sold and is its own little industry because everyone needs a dab of art around the house, or a chance for one of those out-of-body experiences looking at things, through the eyes of the artist, that most of us never noticed.

It’s touchy-feely, but there’s a place for art in Kansas, real art, not just portraits of the Koch brothers on black velvet, or TV trays with the John Brown mural printed on them.

And that new license plate, for just $50 extra, with the clever designation “State of the Arts” below the license number, well, it seems like a seller.

Now, that doesn’t mean that arts enthusiasts aren’t still after state money for cultivating the arts and exposure to the arts. The Arts Industries Commission is just testing its wings on being self-supporting, and there is a decent chance that the National Endowment for the Arts may determine future grants to the state based on local fundraising efforts.

But the tags and other fundraising projects are just starting. It might be a pretty interesting little political show of support for state financing of the arts if thousands of Kansans decided to spiff up their cars with the distinctive license plates, indicating that there is broad support for arts, industrialized or not.

State of the Arts in Kansas? It’s not certain yet.

Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver’s Capitol Report. Visit his website at www.hawvernews.com

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