Two Koch Foundations Give Millions to the Wichita Center for the Arts. What's the Catch?

It's been a bad week for the Koch Brothers. Their preferred candidate, Scott Walker, dropped out of the presidential race, and so in a biting piece of satire, the New Yorker noted that the brothers did what any cost-conscious businessmen would do. They asked for their money back.

On the bright side, unlike many arts institutions, at least Walker was enthusiastic about taking Koch Brothers money in the first place. Thirty-nine scientists recently petitioned the Smithsonian and the American Museum of Natural History to stop accepting Koch money due to the latter's depiction of climate change as a naturally occurring phenomenon in the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins. And demonstrators protested during the 2014 dedication of the Koch Plaza at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

What does it take for reviled, far-right oil industrialists to get any love nowadays?

For an answer, we turn to the safe, Koch-friendly confines of Wichita, Kansas, where the two Koch family foundations—the Charles Koch Foundation and the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation—donated a combined $10.5 million in land and money to the Wichita Center for the Arts. The funds are earmarked for the construction of a new facility with an exhibition gallery, an events center, and an arts education area.

Sounds innocuous enough, right? Well, given the brothers' endlessly deep pockets and their political inclinations, it's only natural to theorize that every gift comes with some hidden catch. For example, as this Atlantic piece notes, some liberal critics view the brothers' interest in criminal justice reform as a mere PR stunt. On the other hand, we recently noted here at IP that the brothers' money also goes to causes like cancer research that clearly transcend any menacing political machinations.

Needless to say, the gift to the Wichita Center for the Arts seems to fall into the latter category. For the Koch family, support for the center is personal and transcends any desire to generate political PR for the Koch brand. Family matriarch Mary Koch has been a longtime supporter of the center, and her daughter-in-law Liz succinctly summed up her family's devil-may-care attitude, noting, "If I worried about what everybody thought, I'd be dead by now."

So in this case, let's leave political parlor games aside and enjoy the gift for what it is.