Thursday, February 10, 2011

The arts in Kansas

I'm pretty sure I've told stories to some of these kids. They sent this clip to The Maddow Blog to show that Kansas kids do value the arts.

I should be in Topeka right now, at the rally to support the Kansas Arts Commission. Our new governor has issued an executive order to eliminate the KAC. It will be gone by July 1 unless the legislature overturns the order.

I'm not at the rally because I woke with a full-blown cold. It has been coming on for days, but I hoped I could bundle up and march. Tomorrow I have three shows at schools in Clay Center, KS though, so I had to weigh short term and long term goals. Short term: be able to perform tomorrow. Long term: help save the KAC, which is funding a portion of my performances tomorrow.

Governor Brownback's action is ostensibly about money, about saving the Kansas taxpayers that .29 per capita the state spends on the arts. It completely ignores the matching funds from sources outside the state that will be lost (cutting $575,000 of the KAC budget jeopardizes $778,200 in federal funds).

If this order stands, small communities around the state will lose out. Let me be specific: tomorrow I'm going to three schools in Wakefield and Clay Center under the aegis of the Kansas Arts Commission. Wakefield has a population of 898, Clay Center has 4366. The KAC has provided a percentage of my fee and the Clay Center Arts Council has raised the rest locally. When I wrote the contract, I included the phrase, "contingent upon grant funding." If the arts council didn't write these grants, they might not afford artist visits in the schools. Not all of my work is underwritten by the KAC, but when it is, I am aware that the community I'm visiting values the arts.

So why support the arts? We need citizens to be creative thinkers, savvy problem solvers, effective communicators. The stories I tell subtly teach moral and ethical lessons. The arts teach about the wider world, in ways that cannot be tested with a No. 2 pencil. Kids develop their emotional intelligence through the arts.

The governor wants to make the KAC into a nonprofit organization, funded privately. This completely ignores the fact that many local private donors have already given and given and given. They're tapped out. And some of us are highly suspicious of the board Brownback has appointed already to this Kansas Arts Foundation--he has a strong right-wing agenda, with support from the Koch brothers. Who will determine what art is "appropriate" in this nonprofit organization?

That's a disturbing aspect of this executive order that is not being mentioned: it's not about the money. Here's what Arlene Goldbard wrote on her blog Life Implicates Art:
In truth, when politicians decide to decapitate arts funding, they aren’t even trying to make a significant economic impact. Instead, they are using budget cuts as a form of political speech by cutting something that most voters don’t perceive as directly affecting them or creating widespread pain. That is because, even though the dollars involved are insignificant enough to be dismissed as a rounding error in other budget areas, the cuts garner plenty of publicity: artists and their advocates are very good at communicating their displeasure. In essence, politicians use arts advocates as a megaphone to issue a political message: Look at the criticism I’m willing to take to save voters money! I lopped the head off all this unnecessary crap like art before even trimming the fat from the things you really care about! Money is the sizzle, not the steak.
I recommend her entire blog post. Later she says,
The most important policy question is this: Who are we as a people? How do we want history to remember us? What legacy do we wish to leave the next generation: our stupendous ability to punish, or our vast creativity? [Earlier, she noted that we have the highest incarceration rate in the world.]
Who do we want to be? That's a huge question. I want us to have all the opportunities to be the vibrant, creative, thoughtful, emotionally aware beings we could be. The arts can go a long way toward this. And in the process, why not make Kansas into a place people want to move to or visit, because the people here have those qualities.

2 comments: said...

This is very sad. It is happening all over. Let's hope this gets overturned.

MADeWH said...