Art agencies waiting on money


Kansas arts agencies have been on hold several months, waiting for a clue as to how state dollars allocated by the 2012 Legislature might translate into an economic boon to arts programs.

None of the approximately $700,000 allocated the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission by the Legislature has yet to be granted to community arts agencies.

Henry Schwaller IV, who was appointed a member of the KCAI in August and also serves as president of Kansas Citizens for the Arts, said no progress has been made to put funding in the hands of local arts agencies.

"What we understand is happening with the commission is that the state is moving forward with preparing a state arts plan they can submit to the National Endowment for the Arts for matching funds," Schwaller said. "It may or may not be holding regional meetings across the state, but we haven't heard.

"We're just waiting."

Many financial issues are facing Topeka, Schwaller said. But the $700,000 in funding comes from the Kansas Lottery and not directly from taxpayers. In addition, he said the funds are a nominal portion of the state budget.

Getting those funds into the hands of local agencies should not be a difficult undertaking, he said. It's a process that's been ongoing for decades through the Kansas Arts Commission, which was defunded by Gov. Sam Brownback in May 2011. Creation of the KCAI was heralded as a step forward from that move.

Lack of progress made by the KCAI doesn't bode well for rural Kansas, Schwaller said, and some smaller rural arts organizations already have closed shop.

"It's a real shame, because all that we worked to develop over a 45-year period is going away. And as the state continues to lose population, particularly in rural areas, it's things like this -- the core services that communities have -- that make Kansas attractive," Schwaller said. "It's not just low taxes.

"When you consider living somewhere, you think about what's it going to be like to live there. ... What's the quality of life? And as this evaporates, I think all it's going to do is accelerate the decline of western Kansas."

Plans for Kansas Citizens for the Arts, Schwaller said, include working with the Kansas Legislature as much as possible to advance arts in the state. However, the organization will chart some new courses as well.

"Because we can't continue to go back to our advocates and supporters year after year and say, 'Let's get up the fight again ... let's go back to Topeka,' " he said. "People feel alienated from the Legislature.

"We want a different message that we think is going to be more successful in rebuilding the arts in Kansas."

Locally, Hays Arts Council has held on through the state budgeting turmoil by securing a United Way Community Response Fund grant and a Leadership Kansas fundraising donation of $11,400.

"We're not expanding programs at this time, but fortunately, we've got such a strong base. It's not like we need to expand to be viable, to show our worthiness of community support," said Brenda Meder, executive director of HAC. "In fact, we're just about as jam-packed a year as our staff and our facilities can dictate.

"We're just trying to hang on in whatever way we can."

Meder said she hopes to put the Leadership Kansas funds in a savings account, using it during a two-year period. In addition, memberships to the HAC have increased, with some members voluntarily committing larger membership fees.

Reluctance at the state level to move ahead with local arts funding sends a disheartening message to those involved in the arts, Meder said.

"When I think of how out here in western Kansas, how our role and scope and level of appreciation is growing," she said. "That's what our state should be doing, instead of being looked at across the country as the only state that is not in line to receive any federal funds for the arts because we don't have a mechanism in place to justify the distribution of those funds.

"And we still don't ... even though the state put that money aside."