June 14, 2016 at The Brickyard
Engage ICT’s June Democracy On Tap panel, held at The Brickyard, looked at the role of nonprofits in a community’s overall quality of life—which, as the Wichita Arts Council’s Arlen Hamilton pointed out, “means so many different things to so many different people.”
But regardless of the definition, the panelists pointed out that nonprofits are vital to making communities livable.
“Nonprofits improve quality of life because they engage us,” said Melissa Walker, an associate professor at the Wichita State University Hugo Wall School of Public Affairs.
Sherdeill Breathett, economic specialist with Sedgwick County, says Wichita has become a “donor community” that sends its young, bright talent to other cities, but that it can move the needle.
Shelly Prichard, CEO of the Wichita Community Foundation, agreed, noting that Wichita is the second-highest exporter of engineers in the country, behind the Michigan Institute of Technology.
But, she said, “we’re gaining ground of people who want to live here.”
Hamilton said communities across the country—including Kansas and Wichita—use incentives like tax breaks and infrastructure improvements to entice residents and businesses to move in. But tactics like that are becoming less effective.
“Communities that have public investment into public art, into performing arts, into education, into health, these communities are the ones that are now starting to attract and attain businesses at a much higher level,” he said.
A 2010 Gallup poll examined several factors of community “attachment.” It found that social offerings, openness and aesthetics topped the list as the elements that most affect how a person feels about their community. Lower on the list were economy, safety and social capital.
Wichita’s growing downtown community is a good sign, the panelists said. Things like Riverfest gets millennials moving downtown and keeps the Cargills in the community, Prichard said.
But Hamilton pointed out that Kansas is the only state in the U.S. without a state art commission; it was cut in 2011. And it’s not the only service to face funding cuts.
Deb Voth, president of Rainbows United, says her organization, which provides early childhood services, managed to avoid cuts until government allotments came. They lost about $110,000 in funding, “not because of mismanagement on our part.”
Nonprofits, she says, “take care of a community.”