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Under Brownback, Kansas Will Be Only State Without Arts Commission

Posted: 01/24/11 03:42 PM ET

Kansans suffered a painful embarrassment several years ago when a ruthlessly conservative school board rewrote its definition of science, paving the way for "intelligent design" to be taught alongside evolution in public schools. The decision since has been reversed, and sensible Kansans' facial muscles only recently recovered from their collective cringe. Now, though, they wince at a different sort of political horror: Newly elected governor Sam Brownback plans to issue executive orders eliminating the Kansas Arts Commission. (Brownback's budget report for Fiscal Year 2012 is sub-titled, "Happy New Year, Art Fags.")

If Brownback is successful in abolishing this state agency, Kansas would be the only state in the nation -- including the territories of Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands -- without a state-funded arts commission.

Really, Brownback?

The justification, of course, is a budget deficit. But Henry Schwaller, chairman of the Kansas Arts Commission, points out that the half-mill "saved" in the short term "will have a ripple effect on other sectors of the economy, and Kansas will actually lose money." The move, the commission states, would result in a monetary loss of nearly three-fold for the state: $778,300 in funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, plus $437,767 in partnership money from the Mid-America Arts Alliance. Not to mention countless jobs in the public and private sectors. Ripple effect, indeed.

But maybe it's not the state budget that drives the new governor. Perhaps Brownback, who threw his hat into the 2008 presidential election and likely has designs on the next one, views this move as draconian means of pleasing deep-pocketed fans among his fellow ideologues. "Want to keep government out of, well, everything?" he seems to be saying. "Then I'm your man."

Meanwhile, it's the people of Kansas -- most pointedly, its children -- who will suffer, as myriad organizations and programs fostering creativity and artistic expression go the way of the dinosaur (and other now-fossilized life forms that vex folks like Brownback, who raise their hands against the idea of evolution).

The Kansas Arts Commission (which has suspended all FY2012 programs and grants) wisely has focused its defense on fiscal talking points, on the jobs and federal funding and matching grants and dollars, dollars, dollars that will be lost, but many of us in the Sunflower State can't help but focus on what else we stand to lose: creative opportunity, education, collaboration, expression and joy. Where challenging evolution theory was an affront to the intellect of a state, this latest move by the Far Right is an affront to its very soul.

Forget all that, if you like. These are tough times. We need to be sensible. But this solution to budget problems doesn't make sense. We'll find out soon whether the state legislature -- which may vote to reject Brownback's pending order -- agrees.