Tonight, visitors wandering through downtown Newton will be able to view artwork in local galleries, listen to music and hear a local poet as part of the monthly "Third Thursday" event celebrating the arts.

It's a type of event Newton Area Arts Council president Matthew Schloneger would like to see happening more often, not just in Newton but across Harvey County. The council will be able to do more to promote the arts, thanks to a $45,000 grant from the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission. The grant will help create a month-long arts festival in Harvey County called “Spring Into the Arts.”

"We're very excited about it," Schloneger said. "... It's big news for the arts in Harvey County."

"This is a wonderful honor for Newton and Harvey County residents,” festival coordinator Megan Upton-Tyner agreed. “This grant is an opportunity to highlight not only what the arts bring to the community, but also what the community brings to the arts.”

The Newton Area Arts Council was founded in 2006 with the goal of coordinated planning, marketing and fund-raising among Harvey County arts organizations. The new grant funds will support "Spring Into the Arts," a coordinated month-long celebration of art and music in Harvey County from March 28 through April 27, 2014.

Schloneger said the primary goals of the festival are to stimulate the economy of Harvey County and strengthen Harvey County arts organizations through the creation of an annual arts festival that will serve as the centerpiece for a regional cultural branding effort that will be targeted to south-central Kansas.

The council plans to promote events and spaces where people of all ages and groups can come together to socialize and participate in the arts. They also plan to work with a branding consultant and advertising agency to develop a coordinated arts promotion plan and develop a new website, logo, marketing materials and coordinated ticketing (i.e. being able to purchase tickets for an upcoming art gallery event while attending a concert at another venue).

Schloneger said people may not be aware of how much the arts can benefit a local economy. Annually in Kansas, $153.5 million in total economic activity is generated by arts and cultural organizations, producing $95 million in household income, $6 million in local government tax revenues, and $9 million in state government tax revenues.

However, Harvey County doesn't appear to be tapping into this revenue as much as it could be. Harvey County has a higher per capita concentration of professional artists and non-profit arts organizations than the average county nationally or regionally, but only 20.5 percent of Harvey County adults attended a live performing arts event in 2009-2011, compared to 32 percent nationally.

"Harvey County has an incredibly rich, but underutilized capacity in the arts," Schloneger said. "... We have a lot of arts organizations, a lot of artists per capita and performances going on, but the amount of dollars and revenues per capita is below the national level."

He hopes the "Spring Into the Arts" festival will begin to change that, and bring more awareness to the importance of arts funding in Kansas. He thanked State Senator Carolyn McGinn and State Representative Don Schroeder for their backing of restored arts funding in Kansas, and for those in Harvey County who support the arts. The festival could help to take the arts to the next level in Harvey County.

"We're doing what we normally do, but we're trying to really coordinate our events," he said.