Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?

Kansas is the latest state to take financial aim at the arts, with their governor, Sam Brownback (yes, he’s a Republican—how’d you guess?), issuing an executive order abolishing the Kansas Arts Commission, though the abolishing is via some sort of gradual-privatization-through-the-auspices-of-the-Historical-Society smokescreen convoluted enough to make Freudian analysts rub their hands with glee. At least there’s some nominal outcry. But this is par for the course—political point-scoring over economic impact. It is, in other words, the result of playing nice. And I was musing this morning: maybe part of that playing nice is something that arts advocates normally tout as an advantage, namely, institutions’ deep ties to their communities.

You know why states never pull this kind of crap on corporations? Because corporations don’t care about their communities beyond PR necessity, and governments know it. Go on, Kansas—rescind all the tax breaks on Koch Industries and see how long they stick around. Companies, factories, sports teams—they all know how to work this sort of blackmail. Arts organizations? Not so much. Now, I’m not saying that theaters and opera companies should go to war with their communities. But I, at least, would be curious to see what a little mercenary action could accomplish. Say this Kansas thing holds up—what if the Topeka Symphony could broker a little sweetheart deal with Nebraska to move it and its 100 jobs north of the border? How would that play in Wichita?

Realistic? Probably not. But arts advocates are now forced to deal with an entire generation of free-market fundamentalists that would never risk having their fragile faith tested by something as dangerous as the carrot of an economic impact statement—so why not consider the stick?

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