In the debate over Kansas government funding of the arts and the elimination of the Kansas Arts Commission, a few things stand out.
First, when government-funded arts supporters say that loss of funding will result in the loss of events or institutions, this assumes that nothing changes. It assumes that arts organizations can’t — or won’t — react in some way to compensate for the loss of funding.
An example is an editorial in the University Daily Kansan, which is the student newspaper at the University of Kansas. In it, the editorialist writes: “KAC provided the Spencer Art Museum with $21,286 and the Lied Center with $16,286 for the fiscal year of 2011. Without funding from the KAC, the Spencer Art Museum would likely have to make cuts, including one full-time art education position.”
Now if the Spencer Museum of Art were to lose this funding, are we to believe that the museum is so feckless that it can’t do something to compensate?
And what the museum would have to do to compensate might be quite small. I learned that the museum attracts between 120,000 and 140,000 visitors each year. Using the lower figure, if the museum could figure out a way to coax just 18 cents from each visitor, it could make up for the loss of Kansas Arts Commission funding. I might suggest a small admission fee that could be voluntary. Or a tip jar.
Or consider Music Theater of Wichita. According to its website, it has a budget of over $2 million per year. It received a grant of $7,808 from the Kansas Arts Commission, representing just 0.4 percent of its budget. Are we to believe government-funded arts supporters when they claim that organizations like this will fold if they don’t receive their government funds?
Even for arts events in small towns, the government funds could easily be made up in many ways. In particular, organizations can start charging admission, or increase it slightly if they already charge admission. In this way the people who benefit from arts pay for the enjoyment, just like we expect people to do with other activities they enjoy. It will also force arts organizations to be more accountable to their customers instead of government bureaucrats. That’s a good thing.