Kansas City budget proposes annihilation of artist resources

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Kansas City budget proposes annihilation of artist resources
Kansas City artist/muralist Sike Style. Image courtesy: www.visitkc.com

by Blair Schulman

KANSAS CITY, MO.- Last week, Kansas City, Missouri Mayor Quinton Lucas and Acting City Manager Earnest Rouse announced the annual budget for FY 2020-2021. Among the budget, recommendations are the elimination of the Office of Culture and Creative Services (OCCS) and a $175,000 reduction of the Film Commission. These are two areas particular to Kansas City’s arts community.

If there was ever a time for the city’s artistic community to come together and have their voices heard, it is now, before the City Council adopts the resolution on March 26, 2020.

The dates for three public hearings can be found here. Megan Crigger of the Office of Culture and Creative Services tells Informality via email, “there will be three public budget hearings and online access for residents to provide comments during the budget process through the Balancing Act tool.”

Chris Hernandez, City Communications Director, tells Informality, also by email, “delivering the proposed budget kicks off the public comment period, and we are asking residents to provide feedback on all aspects of the budget. We have multiple public hearings scheduled across the city. These are ways for the public to let the City Council know their priorities for the coming year.”

The OCCS was developed as a “direct outcome of (former) Mayor Sly James’ Task Force on the Arts and the convening of arts, civic and business leadership, involved in visioning processes that resulted in a community cultural plan, KCMO Arts Convergence Plan, adopted by the Mayor and City Council in late 2013.”

Support of the city, in combination with privately funded organizations, including Charlotte Street Foundation, ArtsKC, and others, is instrumental in support of Kansas City’s artistic community. This combination offers a private and civic perspective that is imperative to how Kansas City wishes to be seen by outsiders.

Massive development in the city’s downtown has decimated the core of many artist residencies, programs, and affordable studio spaces. While it is good for business and attracting new residents, this building spree has also erased the areas where artists have been easily accessible to the community. Conversely, total reliance on private and philanthropic funding puts resident artists at the behest of these givers. It runs the risk of dictating content. Without city input, they are in a supplicant position, and whatever cultural position they wish to take is left without legs.

A local website is blaming this proposed Office elimination on Open Spaces, the citywide arts festival that took place from August 25th to October 28th, 2018. On the whole, Open Spaces was a good thing. The city has space and talent to handle an event of this magnitude. While the event included both, it relied far too much on artists known better to readers of Art in America than the Kansas City Star. (Editor’s note: this writer reviewed Open Spaces for Art in America and included as many locals as international artists). The lopsided use of out-of-town artists over-showcasing Kansas City’s creative community was a mistake, and hopefully will be corrected in the event’s next iteration.

A failure of then-mayor Sly James’ office to not meet its obligation to match private funding also raised the hackles of many. Further issues include the unnecessary creation of a very expensive and poorly attended musical showcase that sidelined Open Spaces’ visual art. A lack of city coordination to transport visitors easily and a failure to pay several artists to the point that enacted a lawsuit left a scathing mark on an otherwise pro-art James administration.

It is the artists’ job to show how failure with grace fulfills a destiny of going forward. In the past, another citywide event, America: Now and Here was an enormous success that included almost an entirety of Kansas City-area artists. Started by artist Eric Fischl, the event could be considered a catalyst for bringing the eyes of the national art scene to Kansas City.

In the long term, a citywide festival supporting the arts is good for Kansas City, culturally, socially, and economically. Same with having a robust Film Commission. The city needs to attract businesses related to the arts and entertainment fields to bring in further revenue that is currently enjoyed by other cities with stronger civic support. Kansas City has a large talent pool of creative persons the city needs to retain, or we will lose them to other mid-sized cities that are willing to employ them. Informality founder Melaney Mitchell discusses Open Spaces and the importance of local creatives in a 2019 essay. Secondary and tertiary businesses related to incoming creative and production companies will also share in the revenue that equals tax dollars.

When the city does not support its creative class that sends a message on what it thinks of its own cultural destiny, there needs to be a combination of both private and public support. If the artist class is left to fend for itself in the current growth of the city, that could mean something as devastating as packing up and leaving town. Now that development is reaching its zenith, the city, along with more pressing issues of crime and potholes, must not leave the importance of its arts community to wither and die.

While a lot of this does not immediately relate to everyday citizens, its absence is well-known when the only activities available to visitors and residents alike are transactional. There is the tragedy of last year’s First Friday art walk, where the gunshot death of a young woman put a halt to the over-issuing of permits for food vendors and street artists. The community saw its future as a fun, family-friendly event meant for artists to showcase their work irreparably harmed by gun violence. Since the murder of First Friday visitor Erin Langhofer, there are fewer street vendors and better emphasis on the gallery scene, all of which reduced overcrowding and allowed for better pedestrian movement.

Mayor Lucas and the City Council must not be blind in its long term vision. We urge them to support its arts community and use the artist’s significant contributions to promote Kansas City as a unique destination. That means not undercutting the Film Commission budget or dissolving the Office of Culture and Creative Services.

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