Public funding for the arts is a good investment for Kansas⁠ — paying dividends in tourism, education and quality of place while strengthening the vitality and cultural identity of the state.

It has been a challenging decade for the arts in Kansas. In 2011, then-Governor Sam Brownback vetoed funding for the 45-year-old Kansas Arts Commission, arguing that the arts should be privately funded, rather than taxpayer supported. The move was short-sighted, making Kansas the only state in the nation without an arts commission and immediately costing the state over $1 million annually in matching regional and federal arts grants. Funding was partially restored the following year but has since remained flat or decreased.

Surrounding states continued public arts budgets at relatively stable levels, leaving Kansas arts organizations uniquely floundering in our region as grant money formerly supporting the arts in Kansas went to other states.

This year marks the first year Kansas has made a significant re-commitment to public investment in the arts sector.

As of July 1, the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission, under the Kansas Department of Commerce, will start a new fiscal year with a $500,000 budget, up from $190,000, to support community art programs. The agency can also leverage state investment to receive federal dollars from the National Endowment for the Arts, which requires a minimum $400,000 state investment to seek federal matching grants. The investment was not without significant work on the part of local arts commissions and advocates over the past decade, who have tirelessly lobbied in favor of restoring public funding.

Creative Arts Industries Commission grants support multiple projects around the state with modest infusions of dollars that can have major impact. The organization has funded community murals, art therapy programs, dance performances, youth poetry competitions and a wide variety of other projects. Grantees must demonstrate results from their work. Some projects revitalize neighborhoods, others create jobs or attract tourists. Most of the projects are not solely funded by the state, but rely on partnerships with private businesses and investments from local donors.

Public dollars create the stability that stimulates private giving.

Art grants arguably have the most impact in rural communities, in which small investments can create significant, lasting change, and private funding for the arts is less available. There are simply less sources of private arts funding in smaller communities, making fundraising a significant challenge. A decade of limited public support for arts have almost certainly hit harder in Kansas’ small towns than our urban centers. Public dollars help ensure cultural resources are more equitably distributed across the state, ensuring all communities in Kansas have access to art.

The future of the arts industry in Kansas, as an employer, tourism draw, and education source, is quite a bit brighter.