There are 1,656 artistic opportunities being taken advantage of at East. With courses ranging from Ceramics to Argumentation and Discussion to Repertory Theatre—students currently have ample opportunity to express their creativity, making arts a priority within the student body.
On Feb. 7, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback issued an executive order that would eliminate the Kansas Arts Commission (KAC), in attempts to reduce the state’s half a billion dollar deficit, thus making Kansas the only state without an arts commission. This executive order will take affect July 1, unless either chamber of the Kansas legislature passes a resolution against it within 60 days of receiving it.
Brownback is proposing to cut the present budget of $800,000, by $600,000, leaving the remaining $200,000 as seed money for next year to create the Kansas Historical Society (KHS) a 501(c)(3), or a non-state-funded not-for-profit agency in KAC’s place. As a not-for-profit, the KHS will rely on fundraising and private donations, as opposed to acquiring money from the state.
According to KAC Communications Manager Robyn Horton, the KAC does grant out to local schools, but recently the Shawnee Mission school district has not applied. The KAC does not fund East arts specifically, but Horton said they do fund local programs. For fiscal year 2011, the Youth Symphony of KC received $6,286, the Arts Council of Johnson County was granted $5,137 and the Kansas City Repertory Theatre was granted $16,000.
Sophomore Emma Reno is involved with the Youth Symphony and is angered by cuts being made.
“I’m against it,” Reno said. “Youth Symphony gives me more time with my passion. It gives me a break from school, it’s my escape.”
President and CEO of the Arts Council of Metropolitan Kansas City Harlan Brownlee said that though the change will not result in direct cuts to the East arts department, it still sends a negative message about the state’s priorities.
“What it says to the students at East is that the political leadership doesn’t understand that the arts are a way to help students become more creative and innovative and that the arts are an important business to the state of Kansas,” Brownlee said.
Not only will the KHS be in charge of raising its own money, if it is no longer a state agency, the organization no longer qualifies for two other funds: the Nation Endowment of the Arts and the Mid-America Arts Alliance, adding up to around 1.2 million dollars.
“So if the [KAC] is no longer a state agency, that $1.2 million is no longer available to the Kansas Arts Commission, which means it is no longer available to the state of Kansas,” Brownlee said.
The KAC is a re-granting foundation, meaning they bring money in and have operations they need to support but they re-grant the money back into the state. Brownlee explained that without the money from the government, the KHS will be extremely limited in the amount of money they can grant out.
“Now, you have lost $600,000 in the budget, but you have also lost the consequences of $1.2 million that won’t be leveraged by the organization, so the loss to the state becomes even larger,” Brownlee said. “Now we are talking about $1.8 million dollars.”
According to Brownlee, the loss becomes greater still when you factor in the loss of matching funds which often exceed the original grant amount. When the KAC grants money, they ask for a one-to-one match, meaning if Johnson County is given $150,000, the county has to come up with another $150,000 thousand from private corporate interests.
“Here is another way to look at it: imagine you are a small town, let’s say in Hesston, Kansas and you have an annual art fair that you do,” Brownlee said. “Let’s say you get $20,000 from the Kansas Arts Commission. . . .”
Brownlee said that from there, the $20,000 is matched by private businesses who enjoy the idea of the new publicity. The town’s fair budget has now doubled. When word of the fair spreads, more businesses are interested in helping. Now the budget is tripled: $60,000 total. With the fair lasting over a period of several days, local restaurants, hotels and shops begin to fill with a new wave of tourists and artists in town for the fair and profits boom drastically. In total, an original $20,000 dollar grant from the KAC makes an impact of closer to $150,000-$200,000 dollars in the Hesston community.
“The original money just keeps multiplying and rippling out,” Browlee said.
It is in this way that Brownlee believes people underestimate the arts and the effect they have on the overall economy. He feels that when people make propositions to cut the arts, they are trying to trim away the excess fat from an overweight budget, but what he thinks is lacking is a number of people who understand what that is really doing to the economy.
“Let’s not even talk about quality of life, let’s not even talk about whether you think the arts have intrinsic value or not, or whether they are important to you,” Brownlee said. “If you just simply look at the economics––what you realize is that for every dollar invested in the arts you get a return of about seven.”
Brownlee feels that with new technology and the economy shifting to be more and more driven by innovation and design, the arts play a bigger role in careers than people tend to realize. Visual arts teacher Jodie Schnakenberg agrees with Brownlee.
“People are still going to make things, and people are still going to be needed to make things and in fact, career wise, that is going to be more important in the future than ever,” Schnakenberg said.
Brownlee and Schnakenberg agree that as technology advances, more and more jobs are being eliminated and replaced by machines, but machines cannot invent, design, or innovate: the core of art.
“I’m kind of torn two ways,” Schnakenberg said. “I feel like sometimes, with stuff like that, with the arts, it might be a better route if it is privately invested, but I don’t think it is a good sign for the state of Kansas, educationally, to have gotten rid of that fund.”
Along with being the field of the future, the arts have something different to offer into a student’s education that can’t be taught through core classes.
Steiert thinks that arts have a tendency to be underestimated because of their lack of AP test scores or other types of assessments. Steiert feels that her art classes are her outlet to let loose and have more freedom.
“It’s like a recess,” Steiert said. “If you don’t have recess, then teenagers just kinda go crazy.”
For Steiert, where core classes are structured and all about another chapter, another quiz, another textbook, art classes are where students have the right to do what they want, take on a project of their choosing, and exercise their creativity.
Senior Alex Rorie said that not only is the performing arts an outlet from strict classes and structured schedules, choir is also the place where he feels at home.
He feels that art programs are essential to any education because that is where someone’s true passion is discovered. Rorie believes that because art is a choice, students have the opportunity to pick what they are involved in and then devote themselves to fully because they want to, not because it is required.
“It’s a family,” Rorie said. “To have that family come together and work on a bunch of different stuff has really meant a lot. It is a place where they can get involved and be cared for and valued.”
While the arts are an escape from students’ otherwise structured educations, they serve as more than just a carefree recess. Brownlee believes the arts give students opportunities to learn life lessons and skills that aren’t taught in a regular classroom. For example, performing arts, such as putting on a school production, take an immense amount of collaboration between the crews, the actors, and the directors.
“What are you learning when you go into the theater, are things that you’ll remember regardless of whether you become a professional, that are going to help you in other ways in your life,” Brownlee said.
Rorie agrees with Brownlee: he thinks that the lessons he has learned through choir are things that will help him throughout his life, musically and otherwise.
The change will go into effect on July 1 if it is not voted down by the KS legislature. While the proposed budget cuts may be the end to state funding for KHS, not everyone believes it will destroy the arts throughout the state.
“If you make art and that is your passion, nothing is going to stop you from doing it––certainly not the state of Kansas,” Schnakenberg said.