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Will Gov. Matt Bevin Eliminate The Kentucky Arts Council?

J. Tyler Franklin

When Gov. Matt Bevin offers his first state budget proposal on Tuesday, it's unclear how much money — if any — will be set aside for the Kentucky Arts Council, which just celebrated its 50th anniversary.

Rumors have swirled on social media and in arts social circles during the past couple days concerning the future of the state agency.

Arts Council board member Wilma Brown of Frankfort sent an email to friends and supporters on Thursday, saying Bevin would seek to eliminate funding for the agency and asking recipients to contact their state representatives in protest.

"It is not clear whether an alternative agency will be formed or whether the arts will be folded into another agency," Brown wrote. "In either case, oversight of the arts will become political with changes in personnel and programs with each election."

Requests for information from Bevin's office went unanswered. Lori Meadows, the Arts Council's executive director, directed inquiries to the governor's office.

John Hockensmith, a member of the Arts Council board, was surprised to hear the rumor.

"That's disturbing if that's the case," he said. "It's a good council."

The Kentucky Arts Council was established in 1966, just after the creation of the National Endowment for the Arts. It is Kentucky's official state partner agency for the NEA, which means it receives matching funds from the NEA to distribute within Kentucky.

The Kentucky Arts Council received $759,800 in federal funding in fiscal year 2015 and an initial award of $708,500 for FY 2016. The NEA awarded an additional $200,000 to Kentucky organizations through the Arts Council earlier this year, including a $50,000 grant to Berea College.

Bevin has promised "across-the-board belt-tightening" but hasn't given any hints as to what programs he plans to cut. He will present his official budget proposal to the state legislature on Tuesday. Lawmakers will have until mid-April to hammer out a final budget, which the governor must approve.

The state legislature set aside just more than $2.7 million for the Arts Council in FY 2016, down from roughly $3 million in FY 2015.

Since July 2015, the Kentucky Arts Council has awarded a total of $1,375,403 in grants to state arts organizations and individual artists. That includes nearly $90,000 to Actors Theatre of Louisville, $48,000 to the Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center in Bowling Green and almost $50,000 to the Carson Center in Paducah.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback cut funding for the Kansas Arts Commission in 2011, something he promised to do when he took office at the start of that year. All of the commission's staff was terminated.

Brownback then created a private foundation to raise funds for the arts in Kansas. But without an official state arts agency, Kansas was no longer eligible to receive NEA funds.

After widespread protest, Brownback restored some funding to the arts in 2012 in the form of a new agency that focuses on economic growth through the arts. The uncertainty meant significant delays in restoring NEA funding, and the budget for the new agency is significantly lower than the previous one.

Kentucky's secretary for the department of Tourism, Arts and Heritage, Don Parkinson, was unavailable for comment. Bevin appointed Parkinson to the post in December.

The Kentucky Arts Council celebrated its 50th anniversary earlier this week in Frankfort. It presented the annual "Arts Day in Kentucky" on Wednesday, with performances and artist demonstrations in the Capitol Rotunda. As of this week, the Arts Council's website is still accepting grant and fellowship applications.

WFPL arts and culture correspondent Tara Anderson contributed to this story.

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