Catch 23 in Kansas

Kansas Map - Perry Castenada Map Collection, University of TexasWichita Public Radio did a story this week* about the before-and-after effects of the decimation and then partial restoration of the Kansas Arts Commission, now the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission.  The change is not just rhetorical.  The piece lists four ways in which the commission is fundamentally altered, paraphrased here:

  1. less money
  2. new mission supports economic development function of arts industries rather than the experience of arts and culture
  3. focus on Kansas as an ideal place to live
  4. housed in department of commerce

Let’s look at the fallacies inherent in number 2 and then in numbers 2 and 3 together.  The implication of the new mission statement “The commission is dedicated to measuring, promoting, supporting and expanding the creative industries to grow the state’s economy and create industry-related jobs” implies that the arts (which by the way constitute only part of the creative industry sector defined by the new commission) are useful only as an instrument for economic growth.  I have written about this fallacy before – while the arts can be an instrument for economic growth, that is not where the arts have the most impact nor are the arts the most effective driver of that economic growth. What the arts are best at doing is making a location “a great place to work, live and visit,” the goal of #3.  So, there is a conflict here between numbers 2 and 3, a Catch-23, if you will.  The new commission will not support art that doesn’t drive economic factors in a measurable way (note that “measuring” is the first activity to which the commission is dedicated) yet it is the unmeasurables of art that make locations great places to work, live, and visit. **

*Thanks to Thomas Cott’s “You’ve Cott Mail” digest for bringing this story to my attention.

** This is the premise behind the “vibrancy” goal of the creative placemaking movement, measurement of which is, so far, by proxy indicators.  If you’re interested in the topic of creative placemaking, consider attending Pave’s third biennial symposium, Entrepreneurship, the Arts, and Creative Placemaking, April 12-13 in Tempe and Phoenix, AZ.

About lindaessig

Linda Essig is Dean of the College of Arts & Letters at Cal State LA and principal/owner of Creative Infrastructure LLC. The opinions expressed on creativeinfrastructure are her own and not those of Cal State LA. You can follow her on twitter @LindaInPhoenix.
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