Arts education and the Legacy Amendment: “You don’t want to make a clean lake cleaner”


On November 4, Minnesotans voted overwhelmingly for the Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment. Starting July 1, 2009 and continuing until 2034, sales taxes will be raised by three-eighths of a percent to help fund clean water, land, arts, and heritage initiatives.

19.75% of the new tax income (approximately $48 million in FY 2010 and $54.5 million in FY 2011) will go toward an arts and cultural heritage fund, but there was no statutory language in the bill indicating how that 19.75% will be distributed. The process is currently being determined by a legislative committee.

Sheila Smith, executive director of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts (MCA), an arts advocacy group that was influential in creating the bill, said in a telephone interview that her understanding is that 50% of the Arts and Cultural Heritage fund will go toward the Minnesota State Arts Board (MSAB) and the regional arts councils, and 50% will go toward the Minnesota Historical Society and various public access groups.

Smith said that Senator Pogemiller, the legislator who authored the amendment bill, is very interested in getting money into arts education, but Smith said that her hope was that arts education funding would not take money away from organizations sponsoring the creation, display, and performance of art. Education is “not the purpose of this money,” said Smith.

Senator Richard Cohen also said in a telephone interview that his intent is that half of the arts legacy money go to the Minnesota State Arts Board and regional arts councils, and half go to the Minnesota Historical Society and public broadcasting. These institutions are designed to fund a large number of smaller arts organizations.

The MSAB, in addition to providing institutional support for arts organizations, also gives arts education grants both directly to arts organizations and to schools working with arts organizations. The MSAB does not generally give money to the Perpich Center for Arts Education (PCAE), an arts agency and high school. The PCAE currently receives money directly from the state (about $7 million per year for each of the last two years), and distributes some of their funds to school arts programs and community outreach initiatives around the state.

Nathan Davis, the executive director of the Perpich Center, said in a telephone interview that he is hopeful that some legacy funding will go to the Perpich Center. He said that he is a supporter of funding arts organizations through the MSAB, but he believes that there’s a place for the Perpich Center’s arts education programs as well. “Arts education is building the arts for the long term,” said Davis.

Education is “not the purpose of this money,” said Sheila Smith, executive director of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts.

The Perpich Center has also worked with the Department of Education to develop standards in Arts Testing, but there has not been a comprehensive survey done in this state to measure how effective various arts education programs are. “The Perpich Center is a leader in arts education assessment,” said Davis, “but there is much more work that needs to be accomplished in this area.”

Nadine Sehnert, an arts educator, said that she hopes that some of the legacy dollars can go to a comprehensive assessment of arts education in Minnesota. She said a comprehensive survey was done in New Jersey—at a cost of over $50,000—assessing how well the state was doing in teaching art to students. New Jersey’s program looked both at how well arts programs were reaching disadvantaged youth, and also assessed the progress of students from districts with strong arts programs. Sehnert said there is no way of knowing whether all Minnesota students are being given opportunities for arts education unless the state invests in some sort of comprehensive assessment.

Mary Schaefle, executive director of the Minnesota Music Educators Association, agrees with Sehnert that the state needs to examine how well it is doing. “There should be more definition about how money is spent,” said Schaefle. “We don’t have a baseline. We don’t know how much they’ve learned.”

Schaefle and Sehnert both agree that the state needs to figure out a way to bring arts to students from underserved communities. “Some schools have really rich arts programs, and that’s wonderful,” Schaefle said. “If you think of the clean water dollars, you don’t want to make a clean lake cleaner.”

Sheila Regan is a theater artist based in Minneapolis. When not performing or writing, she serves as educational coordinator for Teatro del Pueblo.