Arts supporters make case in Kansas Senate committee

Last week the Kansas Senate Committee on Federal and State Affairs heard testimony from opponents and proponents of Governor Sam Brownback’s Executive Reorganization Order that would eliminate the Kansas Arts Commission and create the Kansas Arts Foundation to take its place. The plan would also eliminate state funding for the arts after a transition year.

One of the cases that arts supporters make is that with the Kansas Arts Commission being a state agency receiving government funds, the commission receives addition funds from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Mid-America Arts Alliance. If the KAC is ended and replaced by a non-profit organization (the), arts supporters say Kansas arts organizations could no longer receive these funds.

Kansas Legislative Research Department made inquiries to the Arts Alliance and the NEA. The answers from both agencies indicate that it is unclear as to whether the new Kansas Arts Foundation would be eligible to receive grants. In particular, the NEA answered, according to Legislative Research, “the potential exists for Kansas to forfeit its ability to receive National Endowment for the Arts funding depending on how the new entity in structured …”

Senator Roger Reitz, a member of the Senate committee, offered testimony that emphasized the economic development and jobs aspect of arts in Kansas, citing the study produced by Americans for the Arts. This study, which claims huge economic benefit from arts spending, is flawed in the same way of most similar reports.

Representatives of several arts organizations appeared before the committee to offer testimony on the importance of KAC funding. But as we’ve seen in the case of the Spencer Museum of Art, the case these supporters make is often weak.

Symphony in the Flint Hills

An example of the weak case for the necessity of government funding comes from a representative of Symphony in the Flint Hills, Inc., who testified on the importance of KAC funding to that organization, which produces an annual concert. For this year, the tickets to this event cost $72 (plus $3 handling). This year the event sold out — 5,000 tickets — in 30 minutes, according to news reports. That’s $375,000 in revenue, and that’s not all the organization collects as it has many sponsors who make donations.

Last year the KAC awarded $12,786 to Symphony in the Flint Hills. That’s just 3.4 percent of its revenue from tickets sales, which again are not its only source of revenue. According to the firm’s IRS filings for 2008, its total revenue for that year was $822,864. The KAC funding represents just 1.5 percent of this figure (these figures are not for the same year, but are undoubtedly comparable).

In fact, Symphony in the Flint Hills, although organized as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, is quite profitable. For 2008, its “profit” (the IRS form calls it “excess”) was $109,891. That was added to its starting net assets value of $252,401 to give it a balance of $362,292 going forward.

Testimony provided by Symphony in the Flint Hills indicated that KAC has provided almost $30,000 in funding over six years. With the success of this organization, and with the cash it has on hand, the taxpayers of the State of Kansas would be grateful if it considered repaying these funds — or at least not beg for more. This organization has proven that it can thrive without state funding.

As a smaller example, the Western Plains Arts Association offered written testimony that indicated without KAC funding, “we will have to eliminate many of our programs.” A look at the numbers indicates that WPAA received $4,035 from the KAC, while its IRS form 990 indicates total revenue of $80,513. While I’m sure WPAA will not appreciate the loss of this five percent of its revenue, it is inconceivable that it can’t adjust and either cut expenses without cutting programs, or seek a small additional amount of revenue from the people it provides services to.

Taking arts away

Advocates of government funding for the arts make claims that without such funding, arts will disappear. They even make claims that the government is proposing to take away arts, as in this which appeared in a Newton Kansan op-ed: “Abolishing or limiting access to the arts by reducing funding and support systems is not prudent.”

These wild claims make the assumption that arts organizations will not attempt to adjust to the loss of government funding. As we’ve seen in several examples, the KAC funding is often a small portion of total funding. The claims of some that loss of KAC funding amounts to “abolishing” arts is not believable. Or, if the only reason an arts program exists is funding by government, I suggest a real-world test of its value is in order.

The arts are important to our lives, I believe. That’s all the more reason why we need to get government out of art and return supports of the arts to the private sector. The importance of arts is why we need to remove government — which ultimately relies on coercion, a fact seemingly lost on arts supporters — from its funding, control, and management. We’ll have better art as a result.

The committee passed a resolution opposing Brownback’s ERO. It will now move to the full Senate. If passed there by a simple majority, the ERO is canceled. Either chamber on its own can cancel an ERO, so no action would be required by the House of Representatives if the resolution passes the Senate. If the Senate passes the ERO, the governor can use the line item veto to strike the KAC’s funding, should he desire.

2 Comments

  • Anonymous -

    A little unfair you highlight the one event in the art community that is profitable.

    The benefits of arts can’t be measured in dollars and cents. Your points are moot.

  • To Anonymous” your point is moot. If something is profitable should your tax dollars be used to supplement it? Will you help buy your neighbor’s new Mercedes as he is tired of his BMW?
    afterall a Mercedes is a work of Art…….

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