Friday, September 09, 2011

The arts in Kansas, again

"In the long history of man, countless empires and nations have come and gone. Those which created no lasting works of art are reduced today to short footnotes in history's catalogue.

"Art is a nation's most precious heritage, for it is in our works of art that we reveal to ourselves, and to others, the inner vision which guides us as a nation. And where there is no vision, the people perish."
Lyndon B. Johnson

Photo at a rally in Topeka by Ann Dean, with permission.
Usually I try to keep this blog non-political. However, I also try to write about what's going on in my storytelling life, and at the moment, politics in Kansas affect this.

I know I wrote about the arts in Kansas last winter, when Governor Sam Brownback abolished the Kansas Arts Commission by executive order. This was overturned in the Kansas legislature. There was bipartisan support to fund the KAC at $685,000. In May, Gov. Brownback did a line-item veto on all KAC funding, and planned the vote for a day when many legislators weren't there .Zero funding. Kansas is now the only state without a funded arts commission. Governor Brownback instead created a private arts foundation. His philosophy is that the arts should not be state-funded, but should be supported by private funds only. This completely ignores the fact that the arts in Kansas have always been a public-private partnership. It has never been a free lunch.

Before this, the KAC received matching funds from the National Endowment for the Arts and other organizations. Without the KAC, Kansas is no longer eligible for these funds.

I've been on the KAC Arts on Tour Roster since 1994. Organizations around the state would apply for funding for 40% of my fee from the KAC. This year, the organizations that hired me with KAC grant funds are still having me, scraping the funds together from other sources, but in the future, those contracts are unlikely to be written in the first place. A teacher workshop day I usually participate in didn't happen this year because of the issue. I'm affected outside Kansas as well: by dint of being on the KAC roster, I was on the Mid-America Arts Alliance Roster which offers grants to surrounding states. The KAC doesn't fit the guidelines, so today I received a letter telling me I'm no longer eligible for those grants. I'm not sure what this does to a grant that is pending for work in Oklahoma in November.

This affects my livelihood, but what's much worse is that it limits how much art the kids--and adults--in Kansas are exposed to. Small town arts organizations used KAC money to support all kinds of arts projects, from storytelling to murals to music. I've been brought in to tell stories to preschoolers, to provide writing workshops for fourth graders, to teach middle school kids about oral communication skills. Governor Brownback wants all the funding to come from the private sector. There are wonderful people and businesses all over Kansas that have supported the arts for years, but they're tapped out.

Not all of my work comes from the KAC, by any means, but it does make a difference. I also want to live in a state where the arts are encouraged and supported. Fortunately, there are many people in Kansas who support public funding for the arts. I know I'm not the only one to write to my legislators. There have been rallies in Topeka. Kansas Citizens for the Arts has been organizing planning meetings.

We will make our voices heard.

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