May 25, 2011
The Honorable Sam Brownback
Governor of Kansas
Dear Governor Brownback,
I have been following with great interest your efforts to remove government support from the Kansas Arts Commission and to re-establish it as an independent, non-profit agency, with the expectation that doing so will relieve your administration of the responsibility of allocating taxpayer funds to match federal funds from the National Endowment for the Arts. The budget now awaits your signature and there is a great deal of concern that you will use your line-item veto to effectively abolish the Commission which, I understand, a bipartisan coalition in the Kansas Senate representing a broad cross-section of Kansas citizens hopes you will not do.
It is neither my place nor my intention to engage in the political discourse of your state. However, since our small agency has been frequently singled out by your administration as an example of a nonprofit state arts agency that is thriving without, as the media has reported it, the benefit of state investment I am compelled to weigh in and set the record straight on just three points.
First, in Vermont our nonprofit state arts agency is effective only BECAUSE there is significant state investment in our work. Without a State appropriation of just over $500,000 we would be unable to provide the professional development services, educational outreach to underserved communities, accessibility services to hundreds of historic cultural venues that were built long before the passage of the ADA, and a host of other grants that support our creative sector.
Second, without State support we would be forced to raise more than half million dollars (to match our Federal grant from the National Endowment for the Arts) from the private sector—an activity that would put us in direct competition with the very cultural institutions that our mission requires us to support. In addition, our largest grant program (Cultural Facilities), not only provides significant improvements to our historical and cultural institutions in the area of accessibility, the funds we award employ hundreds of carpenters, bricklayers, plumbers, electricians and other blue-collar workers that are, along with artists and teachers, the life-blood of our communities.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, every State SHOULD invest in the arts sector simply because it makes good economic sense. One of our most conservative policy analysts looked at state and local tax revenues that flowed to state and municipal coffers from our very narrowly-defined arts sector in Vermont. Income taxes paid by artists, arts administrators and independent arts contractors, as well as the long-established IMPLAN economic modeling analysis on just the nonprofit arts institutions in the state, reveal a total return of $19.45 million on a combined investment of $2.5 million, which includes our $500k appropriation. This annual ROI of 775% is even more astonishing since virtually all of Vermont’s state tourism dollars promote skiing, outdoor recreation, fall foliage, maple syrup, and artisanal food preparation and service, NOT art and culture—a circumstance which, I am happy to say, is going to change starting this summer.
Our legislature is getting more and more comfortable with thinking of the work we do as expanding the revenue base of our state, not increasing the expenses that our citizen taxpayers must bear. Our sector provides good jobs. It adds enormous social and civic value to our communities. It improves the relationship that young people have with their schools and communities. And it serves as a powerful attraction to entrepreneurs seeking to locate their new businesses in a creative, vital community setting. The “creative economy” is real and it is thriving here in Vermont. I believe that all these arguments are relevant to making the case for keeping the Kansas Arts Commission on sound financial, PUBLIC footing.
With great respect for you and for the wonderful citizens of Kansas, I am
Alexander L. Aldrich
Vermont Arts Council
"Inspiring a Creative State..."