Manhattan suffers on many fronts from loss of state art funding

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Since the election of Sam Brownback as governor of Kansas many policies have drastically changed. For example, the Kansas Arts Commission lost all state funding as part of Brownback’s drive to downsize government. This loss of funding is having profound effects across the state and is even challenging the existence of some organizations.

Henry Schwaller, the former chairman of the Kansas Arts Commission, said the state of Kansas funded $700,000 of the Art Commission’s budget. But once the state funding dried up in May, the commission became ineligible for $1.2 million in federal funds it would have received.

“Kansas Arts Commission provided financial support and development to 190 arts organizations across the state,” Schwaller said. “That money is important because it goes to local communities and it partially supported 4,000 nonprofit jobs across the state that provided those communities a better quality of life and programs that would give school children a chance to see a play, learn about the arts, and problem solve.”

Brownback proposed eliminating the commission in his State of the State address in January, but when he actually offered a budget without money for the commission, the state senate overrode him. On May 28, Brownback line-item vetoed the section of the state funding bill containing financial support for the commission.

Organizations in Manhattan also felt the loss in funding, specifically the Manhattan Arts Center, which received some grants from the Kansas Arts Commission.

Penny Senften, executive director of the Manhattan Art Center, said the center lost an $8,000 Operational Support grant that helped pay for the upkeep of the museum.

“It’s not tied to any particular program, most people don’t want to pay for keeping the lights on, but that’s what it did,” Senften said. “Another grant, Arts on Tour, brought performers to schools. You had to bring in an artist outside of your community. What we used it for mostly was for performers to go around to the elementary schools: actors, storytellers, jugglers, singers. We were planning to have them this year but not at the moment.”

City commissioner Richard Jankovich said the city gave the Manhattan Arts Center $80,000 this year. He also stated the city viewed the Center as an independent entity, and Senften confirmed that they also received support from private donors, tickets to events and tuition for art classes.

The commission still exists, but the loss of state and federal funding has severely handicapped their support, and Senften said they were not yet offering grants or any of their organizational services.

“I think one of the biggest things is they used to offer professional development workshops but that’s gone too,” Senften said. “It trained people running the art organizations.”

Senften said the center is large enough that it has survived the losses unlike some of the art organizations located in smaller communities.

Losses in state funding locally have not been confined to city organizations. Even K-State is feeling the effects.

Martha Scott, business and marketing manager of Beach Museum of Art, said the museum lost about $16,000 in annual funding. Scott said the money paid for everything from early childhood workshops and school visits to expenses related to switching exhibits.

“The major impact was it provided money to bus children from their schools to visit the museum and right now we are looking for possible ways to replace the funding.”

Funding for the workshops and exhibits has also not been replaced and Scott said there would be less of both as a result.

Brownback’s decision to not fund the commission has damaged Manhattan’s local art scene, but the most far-reaching effects probably involve Kansas’s reputation as a good place for artists.

“Kansas was considered, up until this point, as one of the most innovative and creative art communities, and we have more artists per capita than any state in the nation according to a 2007 study,” Schwaller said.

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