By RACHEL COLEMAN
Leader & Times
When Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback announced a new, tighten-the-belt budget for the state, the consequences for musicians, artists and literary types were breathtaking: Brownback proposed elimination of the Kansas Arts Commission, replacing it with a not-for-profit entity designed to draw on non-governmental funding sources. The arts community heaved a sigh of relief when the Kansas Senate voted 24 to 13 to pass SR1819; that measure opposed Brownback’s directive and kept the KAC alive.
But just barely. While the Kansas Arts Commission will continue to exist, funding cuts might leave it struggling.
“The next battle is the budget,” observed Adriane Hatcher, director of the Baker Arts Center of Liberal. Besides hosting exhibits and juried art contests, the center provides art classes for children and adults, sponsors performing arts events and provides outreach programs in the public school and juvenile correctional systems. Hatcher said previous funding reductions had already cost BAC about $100,000 and there’s no way to tell what’s ahead. That particular unknown is already a familiar scenario:
“Things have been looking kind of scary for the Kansas Arts Commission for a long time,” Hatcher said. In response, “we’ve been pretty good about having a broad base of support,” rather than simply relying on government funding.
That’s exactly what cost-cutters want to see, said Kansas Senator Garrett Love, who voted “no” on SR 1819. He was in favor of replacing the KAC with a nonprofit arts foundation, and felt there was “a very bad misperception” of what would occur if the governor’s recommendation had come to fruition.
“This structural change [would have enabled] our central arts agency to focus on getting more money out to our communities, including Liberal, and less of a focus on administrative/salary bureaucracy costs for the KAC executives,” he said, adding that “The best part is the fact that the private sector would be able to get more involved with the arts, as it should be.”
Liberal’s private sector has already demonstrated a willingness to be involved at Baker Arts Center, Hatcher said. From June 2008 to the present, nearly half (48.1 percent) of BAC’s funding comes from individual contributions in the form of memberships, donations and fundraiser giving. Grants and earned income make up more than 40 percent. Less than 10 percent of the center’s operating funds come through the Kansas Arts Commission.
Though the amount seems small in terms of percentage, it is important, Hatcher said, because arts commission funding “gives us leverage when we go to private entities to ask for support.” Support from the KAC shows that programs are legitimate in content and implementation — a “stamp of approval” of sorts that simplifies other grant applications and private requests.
Seward County United Way director and Southwest Symphony Society board president Kay Burtzloff is also familiar with the intricate web of relationships that come to bear on nonprofit funding.
“We’re dealing with a governor who honestly thinks the arts, the needs of the homeless, all of it, should be funded through private philantropy and the churches — and in a wonderful world, that would work. But in the world we live in, that would be the kiss of death,” she said. “When you go for other grants, the first thing they ask is ‘have you gone for the Kansas grant?’ and if you haven’t, they’re not so interested in helping.”
Hatcher’s experience with fundraising is that “everybody is supportive, and agrees that it’s wonderful to have these arts programs. But when it comes to asking for money, that’s when you get hung up,” she said. Hatcher said increasing private support for Baker Arts will require more people to be involved, or asking those already involved to give a little more.
Even so, she’s optimistic. Once people realize that private and individual arts support is a great deal for the community, Hatcher said, they are more willing to contribute.
“The arts generate $134 billion of economic activity in the U.S., and we can track how much that translates to Baker Arts Center in Liberal,” she said. “Last fiscal year, we directly served 6,300 individuals, which equals $123,000 in event-related spending in the community.” On average, she said, a person who attend a BAC event spends a bit less than $20 for meals, gas, shopping, overnight stays and the like.
The center also serves to enhance property values and the community as a whole. People who are considering a move to Liberal come in to see what the community offers in terms of the arts, Hatcher said, “and Baker Arts Center is pretty much it.”
When outsiders evaluate a community, Burtzloff said, they ask, “‘How do they treat their artists? What do they have that you don’t have to drive three or five hours to enjoy?’ I was lucky to grow up in Houston, where my mother took us to every dollar concert and everything a family of limited resources could use. That’s why Southwest Symphony makes it affordable for people to enjoy the concerts. We want people to come.”
A Southwest Kansas native himself, Love says he, too, values the arts and has experienced firsthand the challenges presented by living in a region where opportunities to enjoy them are few and far between.
“I grew up in a very musical family. Attending a small high school (graduating class of 23), I ended up switching instruments (from trombone to tuba) in my high school band at one point because someone needed to play the tuba,” he recalls. Love says that personal, sacrificial approach to making the band — or the art center — succeed might be what’s required of Kansans.
“I am very supportive of our governor and his efforts to streamline and make state government more efficient,” he said. “In difficult times, we are reminded of the importance of focusing on the core functions of government.”
For her part, Burtzloff fears, “it would be tough for SWSO or for Baker Arts to make it on private philanthropy.” Love may have good fiscal intentions, she said, but “he’s bowing to his conservative leaders rather than representing his constituency. People don’t realize what it takes for our rural communities to have the arts, to sustain the arts. The idea that you’re going to save these vast sums of money isn’t showing up in the analysis, but it has the potential to destroy the programs that are out there, so when the tide turns, it’s too late. When you dismantle the infrastructure, you kill it for several generations.”