Ad Astra per Aspera: That’s the Kansas state motto, “to the stars, through difficulty.” It’s also the motto for any artist, writer, dancer, filmmaker painter or anyone else hard-wired to make something on a regular basis despite the sketchy career path. At this moment all of us artists in Kansas are catapulted into the “through difficulty” part of that motto since today the governor vetoed funding for the Kansas Arts Commission a few weeks after he fired the KAC staff, and three months after he tried to abolish KAC with an executive order that the Senate overturned. Although it’s painful to see an elected official ignore the will of the people of Kansas and the legislative process, the total annihilation of state arts funding makes it clear that we need to unearth, conjure, cobble together and invent new ways to get back to the stars.
So here are some ideas that come to me about writing our new story of the arts in our beloved land:
- “Poetry is not a luxury,” Audre Lorde wrote, and this is true for all the arts. While we’ve talked up one side and down the other about the economic impact of defunding the arts, we need to also talk about how the arts help us live better lives and, in fact, show us how to live with greater clarity, more of our authentic selves and in greater harmony with our communities. Art saves lives. Writing poetry as a 14-year-old gave me a reason to survive a very dark time. Thousands of other artists can tell similar stories. Those of us who bring the arts to small towns or big cities have thousands of moments when we witnessed what a difference music can make to a middle-schooler, a writing workshop can make to someone recovering from abuse, or a performance can make to an elder.
- Withholding art in any form as a protest is a sure way to hurt ourselves more. It diminishes our spirit because we’re more alive in the making and sharing of our art. It also fulfills the ill-conceived wish of those in this world who want less art in the public sphere.
- Yes, we need public support of the arts: the local, state, regional and national levels, and no, it’s not acceptable to not have state funding. So we need to hold together and hold strong on resurrecting that funding. We all know that those who foot the bill have power over what’s being bought. To relegate the arts to only private support means diminishing the arts as something that belongs to all of us.
- The arts act as a public commons: a way of bringing together people through performances, displays, publications and other means so we can share communal experiences that show us who we are and more of the world we live in. The public in Kansas obviously supports the arts as a public entity, a meeting ground, a collective exploration. We need to keep growing the arts as a public commons.
- Throughout the last four months of reaching out to legislators and each other, we have found ways to talk to more than the usual suspects when it comes to arts funding. We need to continue and extend this outreach, and find ways to deepen and widen civil exchanges, big discussions and searching together for greater understanding of how to collectively hold the space for the arts in our spacious state.
- Art shows us how to cultivate an inner life instead of living our lives as mapped out by consumerist hooks and prompts. Art brings us home to ourselves, and in that homecoming, we find our innate power to open our hearts and connect with the world.
Besides, we live in Kansas, and if you live here or have even just driven through on a clear night, stopping in a rest top and looking up before getting back on the road, you know something about the rest of our state motto. The stars are spectacular here, and like those of us who make art in one form or another, they show up how to see the sky and even how to see in the dark. No one can take away our vision.