BEHIND THE STORY | Ensuring legacy funds serve all communities


More than five years after Minnesotans voted to pass the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, I think we can look back and say the sales tax revenue generated has been a boon to our arts economy, despite the reactionary criticisms of its naysayers. I’m a big fan of the amendment- as someone who has personally benefitted from it as an artist and researcher but also as a person with a vested interest in the cultural life of my hometown. At the same time, I do think it’s right and appropriate to make sure that we are celebrating and preserving the cultural heritage of all Minnesotans, not just some, and for that reason, I support efforts to study the impact of legacy grants for communities of color in particular.

This legislative session the Council on Black Minnesotans were pushing for a bill, authored by Phyllis Kahn, that would authorize a study, funded by the Minnesota State Arts Board, that would study the funding, impact and needs of artists from diverse racial and ethnic communities in the state. (Originally the bill called for a study on Black Arts in particular, but was later revised to include other communities as well, as reported by Session Daily previously.)

According to Patwin Lawrence, the board chair of the Minnesota Council on Black Minnesotans, there’s no current movement on the bill, as the legislature is now in recess. “We will try to revive it after they return,” he said in an email. “However, the Minnesota Arts Board has agreed to conduct the study regardless of the outcome of the legislation.”

Meanwhile, the Council on Black Minnesotans itself is under threat, after a recent damning audit of the four minority councils (including the Council on Asian-Pacific Minnesotans, Chicano/Latino Affairs and Indian Affairs)

According to Lawrence the Audit covers the past 10 years, and in his view doesn’t take into account the progress the Council has made in the past two years. “We have cleaned out the bad things that were going on in the Council,” he said in a phone interview, adding that the council had implemented new policies and procedures and got rid of “disruptive board members.”

In Lawrence’s view, the audit was a means of scaring the council, just as it is becoming effective. According to Lawrence, the Council submitted 12 bills in the last legislative session. “We are engaging people, going to hearings- all those different things we are supposed to do. All the criticism- we’ve already addressed them,” he said.

Whatever happens with the four minority councils, I do hope that they legacy study does eventually get done. The Legacy Amendment reaches to 2034, after all, and with the number of years ahead of us, it seems like a good time to make sure that the sales tax is going toward artists of all backgrounds.

Meanwhile, it’s a question that’s worth constantly being positioned especially to Minnesota’s largest cultural institutions, which receive the majority of the legacy dollars. Again, as someone who is a proponent of cultural institutions in general, I think it’s right that they be called to task when they aren’t serving all communities, or are doing so in a way that’s merely tokenism.

Meanwhile, it’s almost just as important to also fund organizations that specifically address communities of color. Because honestly, no matter how much outreach that the big organizations do, it’s the smaller and medium sized organizations that are actually rooted in specific communities that are going to have a more immediate impact and reach within those communities. I don’t think it’s necessarily a matter of one over the other- it’s really both.