After a rocky decade, state funding for the arts in Kansas has begun to improve.
As of July 1, the start of a new fiscal year, state funding for the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission increased to $500,000, up from just over $190,000 over the last few years. It marks the highest state appropriation since 2013.
Including grants and other state resources, KCAIC's total budget is now approximately $1.6 million.
"The increase came after a statewide effort to advocate for more funding," says Sarah VanLanduyt, executive director of the Arts Council of Johnson County.
In 2011, Kansas became the first state without an arts agency when then-Gov. Sam Brownback vetoed funding for what was then the Kansas Arts Commission, saying he wanted private dollars, not taxpayer money, to fund the arts. This led to the loss of more than $1 million in matching regional and federal arts grants.
The next year, Brownback restored $700,000 in state funding and created the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission. Since then, state funding for the agency declined, and then stayed relatively flat.
"Generally, we support the role that the arts play in all areas of economic and community development," says Commission Director Peter Jasso. "We assist artists and arts organizations. We promote the arts as an essential resource for community-based solutions, and we seek out partnerships and collaborations."
With the additional funds, the agency will "have to take a close look at what kind of programs will have the most impact and also what's most sustainable, over the long-term, to make sure we get it right," Jasso says.
"We'll be consulting the administration, and the Department of Commerce, and other stakeholders to kind of figure out what is that way forward," he adds.
The agency now has significant federal funding back, too.
The National Endowment for the Arts requires a minimum of $400,000 in state arts funding before it will provide a matching grant. In 2017, organizations and individuals around the state raised the money to meet that match. The NEA grant from the last fiscal year was nearly $640,000.
VanLanduyt says the Arts Council of Johnson County worked with Kansas House of Representatives members Pam Curtis of the 32nd district, and Jerry Stogsdill of the 21st district, along with ArtsKC-Kansas City Regional Arts Council and arts leaders across the state to advocate for a funding increase.
"We were thrilled to hear of the increase in funding for KCAIC for the upcoming fiscal year," says Todd Stein, president and CEO of the Mid-America Arts Alliance. "That helps them in so many ways to help meet the matching requirements with the NEA and continue with the arts and cultural services to the state of Kansas."
Stein's organization works with artists, arts organizations and communities in six states: Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas. Like Kansas, he says, Oklahoma and Texas are also looking at increases in funding.
In Missouri and Nebraska, funding has been relatively stable. The General Assembly approved $4.8 million for the Missouri Arts Council for the new fiscal year.
"I'm also feeling very positive on a federal level," Stein says. "It's strong bipartisan support for increased funding, which is, I think, fantastic."
On June 25, the U.S. House approved $167.5 million in funding for the NEA. The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration. Through a federal-state partnership, 40% of NEA grant funding goes to state arts agencies or regional arts organizations.
Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter at @lauraspencer.