Precedence is everything. The domino effect of big decisions can extend far beyond their intended impact. After a recent decision by our state’s governor, the importance of arts have been greatly diminished in the eyes of the public, unfortunate as it may be.
On Feb. 7, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed an executive order to abolish the Kansas Arts Commission and replace it with the Kansas Arts Foundation, a private, nonprofit organization that will have to fundraise on its own. The move will make the Sunflower State the first to abolish its art commission. Brownback cited the state’s budgetary shortfall of nearly $500 million, coupled with the $600,000 in savings that the decision would cause, as his reasoning.
The plan is both alarming and rash. Not only does the small savings fail to make a dent in the massive budgetary shortfall, but it may actually end up costing the state money. Henry Schwaller, chairman of the arts agency, told the Kansas City Star that the loss of the commission will cost the state economy $1.2 million in donations to the commission from various organizations.
More importantly, Brownback’s decision sends a message to our local community and district administrators that the arts are a superfluous commodity that can be stripped in times of economic downfall. Sending this kind of message is a critical mistake. That kind of thinking is exactly what could lead to financial cuts to the fine arts from the school district, a decision that would leave a much greater impact.
Here at East, there are examples all throughout the halls that dispel the notion that a reduction in financial support for the arts is a necessary sacrifice. The latest musical drew consistently large crowds despite icy weather conditions. The choir, band and orchestra programs continue to hold a reputation as some of the strongest in the area. And display cases all over the school, as well as the new artistic flair on several bathroom walls, reveal the high levels of creativity among the student body.
This type of creativity needs to be encouraged, not cut.
Art classes and activities are often the one time of the day that students can forget test scores, homework and grades in order to submerge themselves in their passions. They represent the few opportunities for highly-stressed students to express their creativity. These values seem to be lost upon our governor, as he appears willing to cut the arts commission in order to save a relatively small amount of money. To protect the valuable programs from eventual cuts, efforts must be made to keep the community aware of the importance of the arts and their impact at the high school level.
Fine arts department head Wanda Simchuk said that high enrollment is vital to keeping strong funding, since enrolled students pay to take part in the various art classes. Currently, Simchuk said that enrollment is high enough to keep all six art teachers in the department. However, Brownback’s abolishing of the arts commission could send a message to the public that the arts are not an essential need, and that perception could begin to affect enrollment.
In order to keep steady financial support for the art department, Simchuk said it is imperative to show the community the work being accomplished by students at East. Through display cases and art shows, Simchuk and her students hope that the public will be reminded of the importance of the arts and their value in society.
The challenge would be easier to overcome if the governor weren’t trying to convince them otherwise.