Kansas Cuts Public Funding For The Arts Gov. Sam Brownback recently did away with the state's arts agency — and many in the arts community are up in arms. But some arts advocates argue that being less reliant on government funding is actually a good thing for the arts.
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Kansas Cuts Public Funding For The Arts

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Kansas Cuts Public Funding For The Arts

Kansas Cuts Public Funding For The Arts

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports.

ELIZABETH BLAIR: Kansas, now there's a state where arts organizations are not happy. Governor Sam Brownback recently gutted the Kansas Arts Commission, laid- off its staff and closed its doors. He says he wants to see the private sector pick up the slack.

SAM BROWNBACK: I believe this will be a more successful way for us to move forward. We'll be able to leverage and raise private dollars.

BLAIR: Private dollars have been really good for the Topeka Civic Theatre and Academy where Shannon Riley is artistic director. The company is celebrating its 75th year.

SHANNON RILEY: And through most of that history, we've been funded solely through ticket revenue, donors and corporate support.

BLAIR: Riley says for the most part they have avoided government grants, and that has worked to their advantage.

RILEY: More and more of the arts organizations that I'm aware of what that were receiving tax dollars were constantly under fire about their program and what they were doing. I like being responsible to my donors and to the people who were investing in what we're doing, more than the larger tax base.

BLAIR: Lawrence Reed, an economist with the Foundation for Economic Education, is one who believes the government should not fund the arts.

LAWRENCE REED: Arts are simply too important to be dependent upon the government.

BLAIR: Reed thinks it makes arts groups jump through too many hoops.

REED: When you're dependent, even partially upon government funding, you always run the risk of being buffeted by changing political winds.

BLAIR: The political storm over federal funding for the arts in the 1990s forced some people to find private alternatives. Ruby Lerner is executive director of Creative Capital, an arts funding organization, launched in 1999 by a small group that wanted to find a new model for support.

RUBY LERNER: I say we're small but mighty.

BLAIR: Lerner says with an annual fund of about $1.2 million, they take a venture capital approach. Unlike most government grants, Creative Capital donors treat artists like investments.

LERNER: Because if you think you're going to benefit for future generations of artists based on the success of everything you support, then you're going to work really hard to help those projects become successful.

BLAIR: Shannon Riley is disappointed that Governor Brownback eliminated the Kansas Arts Commission, even though his theatre company in Topeka didn't depend on it.

RILEY: In a lot of places, the Kansas Art Commission provided the only moneys available for any arts education whatsoever for kids. I love that and I am terrified that that's not going to continue now.

BLAIR: Elizabeth Blair, NPR news.

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