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What New Funding Means For Kansas Arts Orgs (For Now)

Richard Tanton

The new agency formed to fill the gap in Kansas arts funding began it’s first round of grant opportunities this week, but the grants are very different from those that were offered through the now defunct Kansas Arts Commission.

After Gov. Sam Brownback laid off the entire staff of the Kansas Arts Commission and vetoed its funding in 2011, the National Endowment for the Arts said they could not offer their standard matching funds. This left Kansas without any public arts funding, and left hundreds of arts organizations across the state scrambling to keep things going.

Now, two years later, a new state-run arts funding agency is in place– but it is very different.

The Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission or CAIC merged the Kansas Arts Commission and the Kansas Film Commission and is housed under the Department of Commerce. The new agency has a new focus: economic development, and the funding opportunities they announced early this year are, of course, in line with that.

Director Peter Jasso says he presented five potential funding projects that he borrowed from other states to the commission.

"The board met and looked at all five of those, and felt that these two projects or these two programs would have the most impact given our budget," he says.

The CAIC budget for fiscal year 2013 is around $700,000, just more than half a million of that is available to be granted.

One grant opportunity requires a partnership between the arts organization, a local government unit, and a private business to establish a creative space, or promote a creative region. The other is a smaller award that can help a non-profit or a private business with a workforce expansion or technology or facility upgrades.

"That is a pretty slim narrow definition from what we have had before," says arts business consultant Connie Bonfy.

"There is no emphasis on arts education, and in the project grant it specifically says they will not fund art in the schools, so there is a real difference in pointing to community development."

Bonfy says these new grant opportunities are going to require arts agencies in Kansas to think in a totally new way.

"They are going to have to tailor their thinking a little differently, but we are creative, we can do that," she says.

Former chair of the Kansas Arts Commission and current member of the CAIC, Henry Schwaller, says even if agencies are able to establish partnerships and tailor their programs to the new requirements the lack of support is going to make it difficult.

"It takes a lot of support and development," he says.

"We simply cant give these groups $75,000 and say OK, go make it work. They are going to need technical assistance in how to do a plan, a strategic plan and a marketing plan. They are going to need follow up once the plan is done, helping them implement it."

Schwaller says it is a great idea in theory, but in practice it is going to be very difficult for agencies to carry out.

On-going support is just not something the CAIC can offer grantees, because the future of arts funding in Kansas is still precarious.

Gov. Sam Brownback has suggested the budget be reduced by half a million dollars to $200,000 for the next fiscal year. And, it is still unclear if that amount of state funding and the heavy focus on economic development will satisfy the requirements for matching funds from the National Endowment for the Arts.

The exact amount of state arts funding for next year is being considered by the 2013 legislature.

A decision about matching funds is expected from the NEA in June.