Arts, culture, libraries … and the Vikings?


The other shoe has fallen and my wrath has erupted.  I knew it was coming, that the tapping of the Legacy funds, once a mere gleam in a legislator’s eye, would focus, then hone in on the vulnerable funds, those reserved for arts and cultural activities.  And now it has come — with talk of spending the Arts and Cultural Heritage funding on a new Vikings stadium.

When the Legislature passed the Arts and Cultural Heritage funding in 2008 it was an organized arts community, not the Legislature’s deep commitment to arts and culture, that won minimal support, under 20% of the Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment to the Minnesota Constitution, for arts and cultural activities.  It is also worthy of note that the fund itself is just 3/8 of 1% of the state’s sales tax.

The breakdown of allocated funds, as passed by the Legislature, looks like this:
33 percent to a clean water fund,
33 percent to an outdoor heritage fund,
14.25 percent to a parks and trails fund, and
19.75 percent to an arts and cultural heritage fund [Editor’s note: the arts and cultural heritage funding totaled $44.47 million in 2010 and $48.75 million in 2011.]

For starters, I don’t see how that’s going to lure Zygi when he’s obviously out for land development and not so much for the arts and culture….

More important, too little attention has been paid to the profound impact that the Cultural Heritage funds have had.  Because one is advised to write what one knows, and what I do know something about, is libraries.  During 2010 and 2011 public libraries in Minnesota received $4,250,000  in Arts and Cultural Heritage Funds.  Those funds were expended by the regional systems, passed down to or received directly by local libraries to implement programs and enhance resources.  Library-designated funds have also been spent by state agencies, particularly the Minnesota Historical Society which has established a working partnership with the Council of Regional Public Library Systems to collaborate on specific Legacy funded projects.  The expenditures and program descriptions, through 2010, are listed and described in detail on the Legacy website.

Libraries, particularly libraries in small towns and communities, operate on a shoestring, often dependent on volunteers and Friends, always trying to hold their own on the budget of municipalities and counties that are pulled from every direction.

The more salient fact is that those same libraries are preservers of the community’s culture, responsible for tending the record, reaching out and for assuring that those who care about their history have access to the stories.  Libraries also provide a sort of arts and culture lifeline for the communities they serve.  They have space for meetings, staff and volunteers who are in touch with learning opportunities, means to promote, interpret and focus on public events.

Statewide Legacy funds have funded an amazing mix of library programs including the very popular event and museum passes and bus trips, author visits ranging from Alison McGhee to Barton Sutter and a host of other, folk dance,  a celebration of National Poetry Month and dozens of other initiatives that highlights the arts, local history and the stories and activities that build a community.

When I asked for stories of what’s happened with Legacy funds in the metro area I received some great stories.  This report submitted by Anoka County Library is so local and so timely it serves as a great sample of what a small grant can unleash when energetic folks make connections to improve access for the public served by the local library:

Once again ACL has collaborated with the Coon Rapids Senior Center to provide seniors and their grandchildren with a Legacy program over MEA break. 45 people attended the program at the Senior Center last Friday, 30 seniors and 15 of their grandchildren. The program was Ghosts of Anoka County and was presented by Sarah Given, from the Anoka County Historical Society. ACL sponsored the program using our Legacy funding.

Many of the seniors attending the program used walkers. One of the ladies using a walker made it a point to thank the library for providing the program at the Senior Center. She had always wanted to go on the Ghost Walk in Anoka, but wasn’t able to handle the distance. She couldn’t believe she could finally take the tour—virtually! She really enjoyed the program as did the rest of the audience. The history program was 80 minutes long but the children stayed attentive and many adults stayed after the program to talk about their “ghostly” adventures. Personally, I was intrigued by the local Anoka history that was mixed in with ghost stories. I can’t wait to go the 7th floor of the government center for an aerial view of City Hall—I had no idea the building is shaped like a handgun and I want proof!

This has been a valuable collaboration for the library. One of our goals for our Legacy funding projects was to bring our Library to unexpected places. Many of the seniors I spoke with at the program were not library users, but they took our hours brochure with them as well as the flyers for the upcoming history programs.

There may seem to be a major stretch between the experience of these Anoka elders and youngsters and the development concerns of one team owner.  It is worth noting, however, that the developer’s eyes are on the very land in which these folks are living, learning and voting. Granted, these people and the Legacy Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund are vulnerable, ill-equipped to lobby their concerns in the marble halls and quiet backrooms where lobbyists, financial giants and the political Deciders gather.  I can only hope against hope that the Governor remembers what really matters to many Minnesotans whom he may not know personally but who still matter.