Commentary: Brownback's arts attack hurts rural Kansas

It’s time for Kansans to ask their governor what he has against rural residents of the Sunflower State.

Gov. Sam Brownback’s actions in dismantling the Kansas Arts Commission were unprecedented, disdainful of a public campaign to save arts funding and demeaning to a very conservative Legislature that had shown a willingness to work with him on many of his social conservative issues.

Yet instead of using his line item veto to eliminate the commission, Brownback this week unilaterally fired the commission’s five employees. This will make selling rural Kansas to prospective residents and businesses even tougher.

It’s not a leap to think that Brownback is already looking beyond his state executive office, hoping to make points with conservatives nationally.

Early this year, Brownback submitted a budget that would have cut $700,000 from the arts commission and replaced it with a private foundation that would get about a third of that as seed money. The Legislature balked. It then inserted the funding in the budget, under heavy pressure from constituents and the arts community and unsure whether Brownback’s proposal jeopardized almost $800,000 in federal arts funding funneled through the commission.

This Legislature is no friend of liberal causes, and its members have followed much of Brownback’s conservative social agenda. But on arts, they saw that agenda hurting Kansas. The amount of public money going to the arts in the state is small, but it does enormous good.

Iola gets $1,000 for a trio performing the music of a Kansas composer. A Dodge City community theater gets $1,000 to support a play. Mulvane gets $1,000 for an exhibit and educational program by a Kansas artist.

In all, the money supports almost 200 community arts groups, with small grants that make the difference between being able to provide cultural programs in the rural areas or not. The arts, after all, mean not only a higher quality of living, but pump an estimated $150 million a year into the Kansas economy.

To read the complete editorial, visit www.kansascity.com.