Friday, June 21, 2013

Arts advocate says decision by Commerce will delay funding for Kansas arts organizations

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

The battle over state funding of the arts in Kansas continued today.

An arts advocate criticized a move by the Kansas Department of Commerce to roll over $400,000 in state arts funds into the next two fiscal years.

"That means that $400,000 — money that was designated for grants — will not be spent on the arts this fiscal year," said Henry Schwaller, chairman of the Kansas Citizens for the Arts.

He added, "This underhanded tactic ignores the fact that many arts organizations wasted time, effort and work to put together grant applications that they thought would be funded by June 30th," which is the end of the current fiscal year.

In a letter to the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission, Kansas Secretary of Commerce Pat George said rolling over "unspent" funds into future years will help the commission nail down matching funds from the National Endowment for the Arts and give the commission more flexibility in administrating grant programs.

Schwaller, who also serves on the KCAIC board, said, "I don't believe that is true."

The commission, he said, had in place a process to administer grants to applicants from funds in the current fiscal year. "This has just pulled the rug out from underneath them," he said.

The dustup is just the latest in more than two years of fighting between arts advocates and Gov. Sam Brownback.

In 2011, Brownback declared the state shouldn't be funding the arts and abolished the Kansas Arts Commission and vetoed its funding. The action made Kansas the first state to stop state funding of the arts, and Kansas lost $1.3 million in federal and regional matching funds.

Last year, after a public outcry, Brownback and the Legislature established the Kansas Creative Arts Commission and placed it under the Commerce Department, a Cabinet-level agency under Brownback.

The Legislature approved a $700,000 budget for the current fiscal year.

The budget Brownback just signed into law, however, cuts the funding to $200,000 for each of the next two fiscal years.

"The loss of $500,000 for each of the coming two years is a huge blow to arts organizations and artists," Schwaller said.