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Students make art 'disappear' for a day to protest state funding cuts

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – When a group of Bethel College students were discussing their feelings about the Kansas governor’s recent decision to cut arts funding, they decided to bring it home.

So Friday, Feb. 18, they organized a Day without Art, going around campus to cover between 50 and 60 pieces of publicly displayed art with black cloth and black garbage bags.

They announced the action in Friday's convocation and invited their fellow students to call Topeka and express their opinions.

Newly elected governor Sam Brownback issued an “executive reorganization order” Feb. 7 to make the Kansas Arts Commission (KAC) into a foundation, meaning it will depend solely on private money and no longer receive state funding.

The resulting loss of $575,000 could also lead to a loss of twice that much in funding from the Mid-America Arts Alliance and the National Endowment for the Arts.

This could directly affect Bethel College, as well as Hesston College – the KAC has supported the Hesston-Bethel Performing Arts Series, the Bethel College Academy of Performing Arts and the Newton Mid-Kansas Symphony Orchestra, which performs most of its concerts in Memorial Hall on the Bethel campus and includes Bethel students in its personnel.

Art major Ricardo Sanchez, junior from Moundridge, one of the students who organized Day without Art, noted that as a high school student, he participated in arts programs put on by organizations that received state funding. He now hopes to teach art after he finishes college.

“If we lose funding, all of that won’t be offered to other people,” he said. “They won’t get the opportunity to express themselves [like I did]. I fear that.”

Erica Buller, junior art major from Lenexa, also praised state-funded arts programming like Art in the Park that she grew up with in summers. “These programs are important to kids,” she said. “It was part of the reason I became an art major. They are great social programs.”

Megan Upton-Tyner, Bethel instructor of theater, was the faculty advisor for the student group. She attended the Feb. 10 Rally to Support Kansas Arts in Topeka and said she found it inspiring.

“I’m very passionate about the arts,” she said, “from working with high school and college-age young people but also with younger kids in Newton Community Theater. The arts are essential, especially in rural communities, and they are going to suffer most from this cut in funding.”

For the Day without Art, in addition to covering art pieces, the students posted some facts and figures about the arts in Kansas. For example, arts education has been documented to keep students in school and increase high school graduation rates. The arts in Kansas have created the equivalent of about 4,000 full-time jobs and generate millions of dollars in annual revenue.

Upton-Tyner said that while she recognizes Kansas and the entire country face budget shortfalls and that “we all have to do with a little bit less, cutting is not the answer.”

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2010-11 analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States and is in the first tier in its category in the U.S. News & World Report annual ranking of “America’s Top Colleges” for 2011. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see

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