Guest Commentary

Greitens’ veto of UMKC arts campus funding misses the big picture

The arts have an enormous positive economic impact on the state of Missouri, writes UMKC Faculty Senate chair Gerald J. Wyckoff.
The arts have an enormous positive economic impact on the state of Missouri, writes UMKC Faculty Senate chair Gerald J. Wyckoff.

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens decided to veto the bill passed overwhelmingly by the Missouri legislature to match funds raised to build UMKC’s Conservatory of Music and Dance Downtown Arts Center, on the basis that he was not interested in funding “dancers and art students.”

What about the impact of the arts on Missouri’s economy?

The arts are an enormous economic boost to the state of Missouri. Americans for the Arts notes that arts and cultural activities in Missouri create 33,000 full-time jobs, and annually contribute $743 million in household income and $110 million in state government revenue to the economy. The conservatory is an intrinsic component in making the region one of U.S. News and World Report’s “Best Places to Live in the U.S.”

The region has 8,346 jobs in the sector, contributing $273 million in annual economic activity, $9 million for the local government, and $12.8 million in state revenue. The performing arts in downtown Kansas City have already created a booming economy that has reversed decades of urban blight, boosting the state’s finances with increased tax revenues, property values, service industry spending and tourism dollars. Continuing this trend would increase investment and revenue in the state — and that benefits everyone.

The arts consistently provide the state with good press. The community of artists who live and work in Kansas City has fought to retain every arts organization that currently resides here. The decision to locate the Conservatory of Music and Dance in the shadow of the Kauffman Center presents to the world a credible argument that art education in Missouri rivals what you’d find on the coasts.

The conservatory will continue to support students who have typically been denied access to the kind of education which allows individuals to grow, learn and develop as citizens, as professionals, as community leaders — and, of course, as taxpayers and voters.

The conservatory is an ambassador to attract new investment to the state. The arts generate income, goodwill and enjoyment. Good jobs, good schools and an interactive, diverse cultural scene are compelling reasons to move to a given city or region, and millennials often choose the kind of lifestyle they desire over the kind of job they want. This is the vital, educated populace employers demand. Kansas City provides the right environment, and UMKC and its conservatory serve to enhance all of the reasons why this region is so highly ranked: generating dollars while giving those who have grown up here incentive to stay.

Greitens is an excellent example of what can happen when kids from Missouri have access to national and international performers and teachers. He worked hard to go to Duke University, earn his Truman scholarship, and attend Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. He benefited from being in highly stimulating, creative environments and learning from teachers and mentors who set high standards and pushed their students to challenge themselves to go beyond their natural talents and reach new levels. We want every child in Missouri to have the ability to work hard and succeed, and the 50-50 match presented an opportunity for investment in our children by both philanthropists and the public.

It’s not just about the arts. UMKC is expanding in entrepreneurship, STEM education and partnerships that offer opportunities in life and health sciences across the state of Missouri. Other opportunities for state investment in each of these areas have been cut in the past few months — in some cases entirely removed from the state budget.

We’re proud of the work we do as educators in Missouri. We understand when budgets are cut because of fiscal realities, and we fight for the resources we need to teach the students of Missouri. We’ve increased enrollments at UMKC in many majors. We’re making difficult budget decisions, and we’ll scrounge for every last dollar we can get to put toward offering educational opportunities for our students.

We understand why it is sometimes necessary to veto spending initiatives: that state coffers are thin, and that there are other priorities for spending that take precedence. But when the governor says he’s “proud” to issue a veto of a bill with bipartisan support, a bill that leverages philanthropic generosity, one with regional support but demonstrable statewide impact, we feel obligated to question the source of his pride in that veto.

We are proud to continue to make the case vigorously that this project is worth pursuing for the benefit of our economy, our citizens and our arts faculty and students.

Gerald J. Wyckoff, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, is chair of the UMKC Faculty Senate. He collaborated on this commentary with members of the Senate’s executive committee: chair-elect Linda E. Mitchell, past chair Kathleen V. Kilway, and incoming chair-elect Stephen Dilks.