In late June, Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens vetoed a bipartisan bill that would match funds for the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s proposed arts conservatory.
The self-identified “conservative outsider” took to Facebook to explain his actions in an open letter to his constituents.
In his statement, Greitens described the move as strictly fiscal, but he doesn’t miss the opportunity to take a jab at the project, describing the campus as “a conservatory for dancers and art students.”
He later told the press “I like the arts” but currently doesn’t see them as a priority for the state.
“I think that when we look at all of the priorities that we have in the state of Missouri — funding K-12 education, funding adult high schools, making sure that we’re taking care of the most vulnerable citizens in the state of Missouri — we have to make tough choices,” he said.
But Kansas City Mayor Sly James released a public letter of his own, standing up for his city and the creative students and professionals who call it home.
For decades, Kansas City has been home to great jazz, world-renowned art museums, folk music festivals, and a storied opera, ballet, and symphony. It’s also home to the headquarters of Hallmark Cards (full disclosure: I used to work for Hallmark), where you’ll find hundreds of artists, illustrators, designers, and writers bringing ideas to life. Walt Disney even had his first studio there.
Creativity is in Kansas City’s DNA.
As Mayor James wrote:
“The arts are vital to our city’s collective personality and history and we must support this industry if we wish to remain a world-class city that welcomes and encourages everyone to pursue his or her passion.”
If fiscal concerns were behind Greitens’ veto, James brought the receipts.
“In 2015, the arts added an astounding 7,515 jobs to our local economy. It also added $7.9 million in revenue to our local government and $10.9 million in revenue to the state government. I don’t hear the Governor saying he doesn’t want the revenue our arts community creates for the state.”
“If the Governor thinks politicians are “addicted to spending taxpayer money” and cites the arts as a an example of the problem – then may the taxpayers of Kansas City have that $10,900,000 back, please?”
The arts scene isn’t just a fun way to spend a weekend in KC — it’s a serious economic engine.
UMKC announced it will pursue the project without matching funds, but not every arts education program will be so lucky.
In Missouri and across the country, most local arts initiatives can’t afford to go back to the drawing board or rely on wealthy donors to pick up the slack. What does that mean for their future?
Arts education and creative initiatives matter to our citizens, communities, and economies. Full stop. With federal arts money for humanities frequently on the chopping block, state and local funding is absolutely vital if we hope to create and maintain world-class cities for generations to come.