Arts Council Grant recipients in the metropolitan area represent a broad group of arts and arts organization. While there are many, this article will focus on two divergent groups who received funding in 2012. The ArtsKC Fund “provides funding to a diverse pool of artists and arts organizations; is a valuable way for the community to invest in the entirety of the arts community; and is a way for arts supporters to contribute to the arts and reach organizations who don’t normally receive a lot of public attention because of the nature of their work.”
Kansas City Volunteer Lawyers and Accountants for the Arts
The first is the Kansas City Volunteer Lawyers and Accountants for the Arts. Executive Director Danielle Merrick offered a little history about the organization. Within the state of Missouri, St. Louis had the first dedicated office of volunteer lawyers and accountants helping arts and arts groups in 1986. However, resources were stretched thin and the St. Louis group could not make it to the western side of the state. In 2004, the Kansas City area leaders knew the time had come to open an organization on this side of the state.
“We are an arts services group. We help those who make art their business. The desire is to catch them and give them the resources and tools to be in business. Art can be a viable job and we want to equip artists so they can receive the right benefits.” Programs include advice in non-profit formation, forming a gallery co-op or an organization that aids disabled or the disadvantaged. For accounting help, it could be grasping sales tax or what is needed for paying taxes.
Merrick says learning about what is deductible can be a lesson in itself. “As an example, paint and canvases are deductible, but not brushes. It’s about what is part of the final sale. Many artists work at home and home offices. That is deductible,” she says. “For the lawyers, artists also need basic elements of a contract including what a contract should contain when it comes to dealing with galleries. We also offer classes on copyright and it’s probably the most popular.”
KCVLAA presents an “Ask the Experts” event every quarter. Merrick says the artists can have up to 30 minutes with an accountant of a lawyer. “We also try to theme workshops around lessons on filmmaking, security or those contracts.” The Arts Council grant allows KCVLAA to put funds toward educational materials. “There’s lots of printing that we do, but with additional funding, we can offer more classes.” The Kansas City Artists Coalition gives the group space to hold classes and lectures.
“We do see artists struggling. Sometimes they come in disorganized, but the trick is to take their artistic passion and couple that with a savvy nature,” Merrick says. With more and more volunteer lawyers, about 120 right now with many representing larger firms in town, KCVLAA touches about 600 artists annually. “That represents about a quarter to half a million in billable hours,” she says. There are about 20 accountant volunteers that help. “Attorneys receive pro bono credit and a rewards system, but we are still hoping to recruit more accountants.” KCVLAA also has an active board that includes artists, musicians and those who can affect art within the educational and school arenas.
Accountants and lawyers spend about three to five hours per artists. “The majority are early career artists. If we see artists in their mid-careers, they are seeking information about branching into the non-profit work. The youngest artist helped has been15 years old and his mother came in too. The oldest artist was around 82 years old. Men and women are evenly split among those we help. Every week, we hear from artists who didn’t know we existed. Normally you wouldn’t look for us unless there was a problem, but we would like to see artists be proactive. The trick is to have the tools as an artist, so there are less burdens and the creativity can be open.”
Another plan is to expand across the state line and serve more Kansas artists. Classes are held from 6 to 8 in the evening because the attorneys and accountants have day jobs as do many of the burgeoning artists. “Whenever I get a chance to speak to a grant review panel, I advocate that we are also patrons of the arts and we want to make sure artists can produce their art without impediments. The arts are essential and help a city stay vibrant. We help artists to be bold in our own unique way.”
The Writers Place
For the Writers Place, unrestricted funds are beneficial for the smaller organization. They can divert some finances to operations such as utilities, but many of the grant funding provides resources for new programming. Dr. Carol Kariotis, executive director, and Jose Faus, president of the board, are both thrilled with ArtsKC Funds. He also serves as a teacher artist for The Writers Place and a founding member of the Latino Writers Collective.
“We want to get into even more youth programming,” Faus says. “We can use funds to help pay a stipend to someone who is willing to step into a school and offer an intervention. This would be engendering a love of writing, but not necessarily through a short workshop or presentation, but over time to build up that dialogue with the kids so they can see the validity of literature and reading. We are hopeful to create a stronger emphasis.”
In Our Own Words: An Anthology of Words from Kansas City Area Youth is one such program that has received success for The Writers Place and local teens. Student participants came from Cristo Rey, Hogan Preparatory, Lee A. Tolbert Academy, Paseo Academy of the Arts and William Chrisman High.
Many of them presented poetry, Kariotis says, which requires trust and courage to put onto paper. “We also encourage
them to find their voice in whatever fashion. It could be rap or spoken word,” Faus says. “Young writers sometimes need permission to share their voices. For me, as long as kids are engaged in words, it’s great. They can see visual imagery or in the digital world. The essence is always the same – it’s about how words rub against each other that gives them the energy and the how to expand their vocabulary and their world.”
The hope is to see writing clubs that have support from teachers, students and principals. While The Writers Place has some resources such as computers and a research library, transportation can be a concern. “We have a mission to help all writers,” Faus says.
So he has been visiting schools such as Argentine Middle and Turner too. Serving young people in two states is not a determent but rather a plus as The ArtsKC funds don’t restrict which state lines, Kariotis says.
“These kids need a mentor. They need to build that stability through our workshops and be willing to share,” Faus says. Kariotis believes these youth and young adults are critical. “We have to develop the next generation of readers and writers. We need the youth to keep the excitement of literature alive.”