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Kan. Arts Commission regroups, seeks NEA funding

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) – The chairwoman of the reorganized Kansas Arts Commission has asked the National Endowment for the Arts to continue funding programs in the state amid concerns from commission members about how much money will be available for awarding grants in the state.

Linda Browning Weis released a letter on Tuesday that was sent a day earlier to the NEA’s director of state and regional partnerships.

The letter states that the arts commission, despite not receiving direct state funding, is the lead agency in Kansas for arts programs. Gov. Sam Brownback vetoed $689,000 in funding for the commission this year. All of the commission’s staff was terminated.

“We aren’t here to bury the Kansas Arts Commission. We are here to resurrect the Kansas arts Commission,” Weis told commissioners Tuesday.

Weis said she received an email from the NEA earlier Tuesday confirming receipt of her letter and that it was being reviewed.

To fund the programs, Brownback created the Kansas Arts Foundation, a private organization charged with raising funds for state arts programs that would distributed by the commission.

Critics argue the changes disqualify Kansas from NEA funding without direct state funding. The Mid America Arts Alliance notified the commission in July that it was putting all grant requests on hold pending further review by the NEA of the state commission’s status.

Commission members appeared concerned about what their new role is and how much money the foundation has raised.

“We have seen nothing in writing,” said Henry Schwaller, a commission member and former chairman.

Weis declined to say how much money the foundation has been raised, saying it wasn’t an agenda item and she wasn’t prepared to share the information. Brownback announced in July that he was donating more than $30,000 from his inaugural fund to the foundation, but other amounts raised haven’t been disclosed.

The commission voted to ask the foundation to report quarterly to members about how much money has been raised and what is available to distribute in Kansas.

Commissioner Larry Meeker said it was also unclear what the commission’s authorities were under the new arrangement, including use of office space donated to the foundation for use by the commission.

“Why do we need office space if we have no money?” Meeker said. “Are we becoming a front for the foundation?”

Weis and others said the commission would continue to award grants and not the foundation. They said it was at least symbolic to have physical presence to show that public support for the art hadn’t ended in Kansas.

“It matters to donors. You can’t just be in the ether. You can’t do that and expect the public to take you serious,” said Sandra Hartley, commission secretary-treasurer.

Brownback appointed Weis to serve as chairwoman of the committee, along with six other members. The previous members had been strong critics of the governor’s push to reduce the state’s role in funding arts programs and have them rely more heavily on private funds.

Senators rejected an executive order that would have moved the arts programs under the State Historical Society, leaving the commission in place. Brownback responded by vetoing the commission’s budget, saying it wasn’t a “core” function of state government.

The governor has said that having a private foundation raise money for arts programs potentially could raise more money to support the arts than through state tax dollars or federal sources.

But Schwaller and Meeker said foundation funds that may come with stipulations from donors that they be spent on specific programs could limit the commission’s ability to support arts statewide, or attract matching NEA funds.

“We don’t want strings attached. The NEA doesn’t like strings attached,” Schwaller said.

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