Wednesday, May 25, 2011

An Open Letter to Kansas Governor Sam Brownback

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

Sincerely yours,

Alexander L. Aldrich
Executive Director
Vermont Arts Council

"Inspiring a Creative State..."


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your comments. As a native Kansan, I am embarassed by our governor's lack of understanding of the important role the arts play in the lives of our citizens. Let us hope that he will realize that the humanities are what make us human.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Danette Baker
Kansas Citizen and Artist

tom said...

Nicely written but I suspect it will fall on deaf ears. BB's caught up in his own little world where the only things that matter are religion (his brand) and corporate sponsors.

Ken May said...

Well done, Alex. We can't let misinformation go uncorrected.

Elsie Campbell said...

Here's hoping someone is listening out there who can make a difference. Brownback probably isn't that someone, but only time will tell. Thank you for setting the record straight on this issue.

donald said...

to paraphrase Danette Baker: Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Don Loncasty
Leawood Kansas

Priscilla Howe said...

As a former Vermonter and a current Kansas resident, and as an artist, I want to thank you for your clear and cogent letter. I'm proud of Vermont. I'd like to be proud of Kansas.

Anonymous said...

With a 775% ROI, would it be possible to get the private sector to invest and cover the $500,000? Seems like it might be fairly easy since the private investors could be payed back quickly and handsomely on a practially guaranteed basis. This would continue to give VT the opportunity to provide the professional development services, educational outreach, and other grants, etc. that support the creative sector in VT. Additionally, might this ROI and the ability to pay investors pack remove the concern that the state arts would have to compete with the cultural institutions they hope to support? I would think that these institutions could both invest with the state arts agency and continue to contribute to the arts.

Anonymous said...

My friends (on both sides of the political spectrum) and I are upset about our governor's rigid views. It is clear that he doesn't listen to anyone but his religious leaders and his corporate allies. Thank you so much for weighing in!
Roeland Park, KS

Joyce DiDonato said...

Dear Mr Aldrich,

I am a native Kansan, still living in KC, but HAPPILY on the Missouri side now, and happen to be an opera singer working around the globe. I have read of these developments and find the words "repulsed", "saddened" and "sickened" to be entirely too mild for how I feel about this ignorant act. I thank you for writing your coherent, informative letter, but fear that it will fall on deaf ears. My heart is bleeding for my home state, and can only hope that logic and integrity will prevail.

Joyce DiDonato, who is sadly thinking of returning the key to her hometown of Prairie Village, KS.

Anonymous said...

I am saddened by the news that we lost our Art Funding. Well written, Mr Aldrich. Thank you for your information and time.

...a Lawrence Kansas artist & citizen...

Anonymous said...

Relying on private funding is foolish. No matter what the return, private companies and wealthy people are still hesitant to fund the arts.

In Nebraska, the names Lied, Sump, and Kiewett are plastered absolutely everywhere, including the Lied performing arts center in Lincoln and the Sump-Terscher Amphitheater in Papillion. These families have donated so much to our cities and state, but they can't be expected to fund every theatrical endeavor. It will stop somewhere.

Anonymous said...

"Relying on private funding is foolish." How? The state arts agency already relies on the private sector for 80% of its funding. And to suggest that private companies are reluctant to invest "no matter what the return," is, without more, counter-intuitive. Private companies will almost always invest if there is a practically guaranteed return to them. Relying on the public to support the arts through increased taxes would be nice (perhaps might even get everyone engaged in the arts), but it seems to me that if the same effect can be achieved without taxing the public so much, that approach should be embraced.

Alex Aldrich said...

To Anonymous (6/8) and (6/1):

I don't disagree with you that we should all be relying on private funding. In fact, with the exception of state arts agencies which, by definition, are funded exclusively with public funds federal and state), that's how most cultural activities and organizations are supported.

What we are talking about is a return on the investment made only by state and local governments. That return is in the form of tax revenue which does not nor will not ever accrue to private investors.

The value of public investment in the arts is rarely specific works of art created by specific artists. Instead it is found in students who are more engaged in school because of healthy public arts education programs; more liveable communities that pay attention to the design of public places and whose cultural institutions are well-supported; and greater understanding of world cultures that is intrinsic to cultural exchanges and cultural diplomacy.

Removing state policy makers from a place at this robust table is less about the $ value of the harm it will do to the arts sector and more about the long-term negative impacts on schools, communities, and public policy discussions.

Here in Vermont, the discussion is less about how the arts are supported by the community than about how communities are, instead, supported by the arts. To us it's not a "political" issue. It's a quality of life issue that all parties can and should support.

--Alex Aldrich