NEA delivers bad news to Kansas Arts Commission

Kansas has been told again by the National Endowment for the Arts that it’s not eligible for federal funds, prompting the state Arts Commission’s chairwoman to declare that the group will move forward with a “truly Kansas” plan for supporting arts programs with private money.

An NEA official told Gov. Sam Brownback’s office in a letter this week that the Kansas Arts Commission remains ineligible for funds because it hasn’t demonstrated that it’s supported financially by the state. The letter, obtained Thursday by The Associated Press, says private contributions would not fulfill the requirement for state support.

Brownback vetoed the commission’s entire budget in May, making Kansas the only state in the nation to eliminate its arts funding. Brownback, a Republican who took office in January, has said the arts still can flourish with private dollars and the state must focus on “core” functions such as education, social services and public safety.

The governor’s veto prompted the NEA and the Mid-America Arts Alliance, a private group based in Kansas City, Mo., to cut off funds as well. The Arts Commission lost nearly $2 million — the $689,000 legislators set aside and $1.3 million from the NEA and the alliance. But Brownback’s actions didn’t eliminate the law creating the commission, and he’s since replaced seven of its 12 members.

The NEA also had said Kansas still could submit a new plan for promoting the arts that could qualify the state for federal funds next year. The commission was preparing to do just that to meet an Oct. 31 deadline.

But in a letter dated Tuesday, Karen Elias, the NEA’s general counsel, told Caleb Stegall, the governor’s chief counsel, that if Kansas uses private donations to finance the Arts Commission, the state still “does nothing” to financially support it.

“The arrangement contradicts the notion of a federal/state partnership, and does not meet the eligibility requirement of being ‘financially supported by the state,’” Elias wrote, quoting NEA requirements posted on its website.

Meeting this week

The Arts Commission met Wednesday, with members initially disagreeing on whether they should submit a plan to the NEA anyway, according to Kansas Public Radio, which first reported the developments. Commission members ultimately decided against it.

Commission member Sandra Hartley, a recent Brownback appointee, told Kansas Public Radio that she’s upset the NEA waited so long to tell the state.

“You could have told me this in August, and I would have been out raising money instead of doing all the things that the NEA required,” said Hartley, a Paola attorney who’s also secretary of a local arts coalition.

On Thursday, in response to questions, the NEA issued a statement saying that Kansas still could file an application by the deadline but adding, “All of the application requirements for state partnership are publicly available.”

The federal agency’s website also says that to be eligible for funds, state arts agencies must have “a designated budget” and “designated staff with relevant experience.”

Fundraising plans

Chairwoman Linda Browning Weis, another Brownback appointee, said the commission will revive a plan to issue “support the arts” license plates to raise funds.

“Commissioners remain united and focused on how to expand and support the arts in Kansas by maintaining and creating relationships with other arts agencies and developing an innovative funding plan,” Weis, a Manhattan real estate broker with a background in music and music education, said in a statement.

Brownback had proposed eliminating the commission and reduce the state’s funding for the arts to a $200,000 subsidy for a private, nonprofit Kansas Arts Foundation. The group formed in February, with Weis as its chairwoman, a position she still holds.

But legislators rejected Brownback’s plan and set aside tax dollars to fund the commission in the current state budget. The governor vetoed not only the money but the commission’s authority to retain its small staff, leaving commissioners to handle day-to-day administrative tasks.

By Scott Rothschild


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