March 4, 2011
Much has been written locally about Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s proposal to eliminate the Kansas Arts Commission and replace it with a private nonprofit. Not only will the arts in Kansas lose most state funding but money will also be lost in indirect grants and services from the Mid-America Arts Alliance. Writers discussing this seem to agree, and I with them, that the arts are not a luxury that we can do without but are an important part of a civilized society and that many arts programs will be hurt if funding is cut. In Lawrence the Lawrence Art Guild and the Lawrence Children’s Choir have receeived some funding from the Kansas Arts Commission.
What I don’t agree with is the idea that there will inevitably be less arts activities (both visual and performing arts) if government funds are not available. Yes, there may well be less organized arts activities of some kinds. But artists are resilient and not easily discouraged. We have to be or we wouldn’t keep doing what we do, most of us without hope of financial success or much recognition. Artists “art” (as my daughter used to say) because they can’t help it.
I am old enough to remember when the arts were much more informal. Singing was enjoyed by young and old alike, whether they were particularly good at it or not. We had a music teacher in elementary school but I also sang in a children’s choir at church led by an almost certainly unpaid volunteer. In high school I joined the adult church choir and was in the chorus at school. I don’t recall trying out. Anyone who enjoyed singing was welcome. But what I especially remember is the way kids sang the popular songs of the day when we got together. When we went somewhere on the school bus it was filled with our singing. No adult organized it. A few kids would start a song and other would join in. At the local drug store you could buy booklets with just the lyrics of popular songs. Sometimes my girlfriends and I would sing from these booklets. Adults sang too and not just in church on Sunday morning. At church socials after dinner when the children ran off to play the adults would sing the popular songs of their youth. I don’t think people sing as much informally as they used to and to me that is a loss.
I think the arts will survive, perhaps in smaller, more informal venues, no matter what the government does or fails to do. Artists not only will do their own thing, as they always have but, as they do so well in Lawrence, continue to form groups of like minded individuals to promote their art. The Lawrence Art Party which I participated in last week is a good example. Art is not going anywhere. It is here to stay.