Kansas State Endowment for the Arts Distorted as ‘Drag Show for Kids’ in Governor’s Race

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The Kansas state government awarded grants to two nonprofit arts organizations to fund a visiting artist and operating expenses under state contracts and one of the groups. Republican efforts to tie funding to all-ages drag shows do not stand up to scrutiny.

The dustup over drag shows sparked a British tabloid story and was championed by state Rep. Derek Schmidt, a Republican who is challenging Democrat Gov. Laura Kelly in the Nov. 8 election.

In an Oct. 24 story, DailyMail.com reported that the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission, part of the state Department of Commerce, “was behind a grant that helped fund” the event, called the Dada Ball, advertised as “a free, all-ages evening of music, fashion, drag & dance” at an outdoor art space in Wichita. But the Department of Commerce told the tabloid that the claim that it funded the event was “patently false.”

After the DailyMail.com story was published, Schmidt held a press conference in which he said the Kelly administration “endorses and condones activities that may expose children to sexually suggestive or explicit programming.” He said “supporting and funding drag shows for kids” is “extreme,” “wrong” and “not Kansas” and called on the Kelly administration to “apologize.”

To be clear, the Dada Ball was not advertised as a “kids” event, but was an “all ages” event, and there is no evidence that it was funded by the state.

A spokesperson for the Commerce Department showed us a grant agreement that says the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission helped fund a guest artist for a group involved in the Dada Ball — not the Dada Ball. KCAIC also did not fund another drag show event, highlighted Republicans, which included the department’s logo on a promotional item. This case was also a case where KCAIC provided a grant to the host organization for a different purpose, according to the group and the Department of Commerce.

Republican Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas, too he tweeted DailyMail.com story and added the comment that “Kelly is spending YOUR tax $$ on a kids drag show in Kansas. The hypersexualization and grooming of young children continues to be a perverse obsession of the far left.”

There is no evidence of that here.

Dada Ball

The Dada Ball was held Oct. 22 at Chainlink Gallery Place, an outdoor “experiential space designed to serve as an oasis for creative activity in the heart of downtown Wichita,” according to the project’s website. Advertisements for the event on the project’s Facebook page, which say the ball will feature fashion designers, food trucks and yes, drag artists, say nothing about KCAIC or state funding. In fact, the posts give “huge thanks to Dada’s sponsors” and name several organizations, but not the state government.

DailyMail.com linked KCAIC to the event by citing a line in an ad for the Dada Ball from KMUW, Wichita NPR station and sponsor of the event. This line read: “Chainlink Gallery Place is supported by Harvester Arts in partnership with Bokeh Development, Wichita Community Foundation and Lifeboat Creative and with support from the Kansas Creative Arts & Industries Commission and the Knight Foundation.

However, this does not prove that KCAIC helped fund the Dada Ball, only that it supported either Harvester Arts, Chainlink Gallery Place, or both.

Artist Aaron Asis is pictured working on an installation in 2016 at the main chapel of Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. The Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission awarded a grant to Harvester Arts to host Asis as a visiting artist. Photo: Andy Katz/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images.

“Commerce has awarded Harvester Arts a $7,500 visiting artist grant to support the work of artist Aaron Asis at Chainlink Gallery Place,” Kansas Commerce Department spokesman Patrick Lowry told us. “His residency began on July 1, 2022 and runs through June 30, 2023. Harvester Arts sponsored the DADA Ball, but their support was completely unrelated to our grant.”

Asis is an installation artist and photographer from Brooklyn.

Lowry showed us a copy of the July 1 contract between KCAIC and Harvester Arts, which says that the money that came from the federal National Endowment for the Arts and was distributed to KCAIC was to be used “to support the costs associated with Visiting Artist Aaron Asis for Project A City Where I Belong.” Harvester Arts also had to provide matching funds for $7,500.

We have reached out to Harvester Arts but have not heard back. However, Kansas news organizations quoted organizers of the Dada ball as saying that KCAIC was not funding it.

Mall Monster Mash

Other arts groups are behind a second event that has drawn Republican ire: the Mall Monster Mash, a Halloween party, art market and drag show also advertised as “all ages” and held in the Towne West Mall art studio space. Promotional image of the event he said it was “sponsored by Wichita Pride” but also featured the Department of Commerce logo at the bottom, indicating that the department funded or supported the event. But groups involved in the action and the department say that’s not the case.

Evidence shows that KCAIC provided a grant to help OpenStudios, a project that connects empty storefronts or spaces with artists who work in them temporarily.

Elizabeth Stevenson, Executive Director of OpenStudios, a project of the nonprofit Fisch Bowl Inc., told us, “Fisch Bowl Inc. received a grant from KCAIC to cover the costs of administration, insurance and services for Towne West studios. . The reason the KCAIC logo was on the posters is because KCAIC requested that we place their logo on all promotional materials created by the OpenStudios program at Towne West. This is very common in almost all grant situations where the grantor asks the grantee to give credit as a way of saying thank you for the funding. We have done this every time we have received money from KCAIC at their request, regardless of whether the particular event or activity was directly funded by the grant itself.”

KCAIC money did not fund the event nor does it fund any art events in the Towne West space. Even OpenStudios doesn’t fund artists’ work; artists have to do it themselves.

“OpenStudios artists receive no funding from Fisch Bowl Inc., so no money from KCAIC: all their work in the program is at their own expense, which is a clause in the contract that Fisch Bowl Inc. shared by all our OpenStudios artists. Stevenson said in a statement.

She shared a copy of that contract with us. It says that the “Curator”, referring to the Fisch Bowl, “shall be responsible for all costs and expenses relating to the Premises as mutually agreed between the owner of the building and the Curator. The artist bears all other costs and expenses incurred in connection with the exhibition and production of the work of art.”

Stevenson noted that there was no forced participation in the event. “Participation is not mandatory, so if someone does not wish to experience this event, they can certainly choose not to attend and/or require their children to do the same.”

Commerce Department Lowry also told us in an email that “[n]Neither KCAIC nor the Kansas Department of Commerce sponsored the” Mall Monster Mash. Instead, OpenStudios won a $10,000 “Reimagined Spaces” grant that “supports projects that transform empty spaces into spaces that can be used as art studios and that stimulate economic development.”

The funds “were approved to be used for utility fees and program director costs,” Lowry said. He showed us a grant agreement dated July 1st between KCAIC and Fisch Bowl “to support costs associated with the OpenStudios at Towne West project.” Like the Chainlink Gallery grant, this was NEA money and required matching funds from the recipient.

The artists behind the event also said in a social media post on October 25, “No government funds were used to support this event.” They noted that it was a “No-Hate” event and that security would be provided “for ensuring the safety of all participants”.

On October 27, the artists said they were moving the event to Chainlink Gallery Place.

A DailyMail.com story briefly mentioned another June event in Lawrence, Kansas, which featured several art exhibits, including a photographer’s work on the area’s drag scene along with a drag show. There is no indication that the show was advertised to children, nor is there evidence that the Kelly administration specifically “promoted” it, as a press release on Schmidt’s campaign website said.

The Lawrence Times said the photo exhibit “coincides nicely with the two days of PRIDE celebrations scheduled for the last weekend of this month.”

The city’s visitors bureau said the overall “collaborative art project” involving several artists was “made possible by a Reimagined Spaces grant” from KCAIC. The $10,000 grant went to the City of Lawrence Public Arts Commission, Lowry said, “to turn five different storefronts into sites for public art projects.” What the specific projects would be was not part of the grant agreement that Lowry also provided to us. It says nothing about funding drag performance. “[A]After receiving the grant, the Lawrence Commission decided how to direct it.’

This isn’t the first time we’ve written about misguided conservative claims that Democrats support exposing children to the inappropriate behavior of drag queens. In this case, there is simply no evidence that the state government funded a “drag show for kids,” as Schmidt put it.

We reached out to Schmidt’s campaign but have not heard back.

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