Legacy spending for the arts


Northeast-based artists and arts supporters made up about one-fifth of the crowd at a listening session Nov. 17 for the Arts, History and Cultural Heritage Planning Project. The project deals with spending the 19.75 percent of the money generated by the Amendment to Minnesota’s constitution, known as the Legacy Amendment, that increased sales taxes by three-eighths of one percent. 

The money at stake: $55 to $60 million statewide annually for the arts, according to literature circulated during the campaign to pass the amendment. The rest of the predicted $271 million total goes to “outdoor heritage, clean water, parks and trails, and arts and cultural heritage” according to the constitutional language.

For its first two years, the Legacy Amendment’s arts and cultural heritage funds largely go to the Minnesota State Arts Board for re-granting as its members see fit. The arts and cultural heritage framework, called for in a law passed in the 2009 Minnesota legislative session (after the Legacy Amendment’s 2008 adoption), will be a 10-year plan and a 25-year framework. A 13-member committee meets, led by the Minnesota Historical Society, the Minnesota State Arts Board and the Minnesota Center for the Humanities who are to report the plan to the legislature by January 15, 2010.

Committee members are listed on the website, www.ACHFMinnesota.org along with a posted document summarizing the first three of five listening sessions. The three-session summary became the jumping off point for comments Nov. 17. Notes from the Nov. 17 session held at East Side Neighborhood Services, and another held Nov. 18 at Southwest State University in Marshall, are not yet posted on the site.

Most who attended Nov. 17 were paid personnel from various arts organizations around the Twin Cities. Many took issue with the State Arts Board having so much control over the money, others thought that this was appropriate and beneficial. Some advocated for money for in-school arts education, others thought that funding for K-12 arts education is a state responsibility that would be shirked if the Legacy money took its place.

From Northeast: Mike Romens and Donna Bachman, representing the Ritz Theater, said that strengthening access to arts, and arts education would strengthen business and economic development through arts activities and educational programming. Holly Jacobsen of Easel Street advocated funding “the teeny and mid-size organizations, and that will take care of all the rest.”

Sculptor Foster Willey said public art is a great way to enhance communities, providing identity, and real working opportunities for artists. Artist and teacher Perry Ingli said “artists get lost in the larger arts institutions. Local artists are forgotten by the big institutions,” but should be equal players with the institutions statewide. “We are citizens and pay taxes.”

State Representative Diane Loeffler advocated for the 10-year goal to be equal opportunity for arts and history organizations, and that planning happen at the lowest level geographically; with similar sizes and population levels. She said that in the Twin Cities, smaller organizations are at a disadvantage because there are so many larger, nationally known organizations which tend to get funded. In rural areas, there are fewer overall, and each gets more attention through their regional arts councils (RACs also re-grant money).

Judy Farmer, a former school board member from Southeast Minneapolis who’s active in Kids Voting Minnesota, talked about civic participation as part of cultural heritage, and said “one of the reasons we moved to this state is its civic participation. I would like to ensure that Minnesota remains a magnet and a model. We moved here from Boston, where there’s a lot of arts” but not this level of civic life.

Meeting facilitators broke the larger group into two discussion groups of about 25-35 apiece, and wrapped up the evening by asking people “now that you’ve said what you do want, tell us what you don’t want, or aren’t sure about, being included.” This prompted discussion of things happening beyond state borders, religious organizations, K-12 education (for fear of it becoming the only way to fund what should be funded by the state directly), large organizations that have their donor bases, large building projects, any kinds of buildings vs. programs and services, and technology.

“This is hard,” said one participant, to which the facilitator said, “all the items up here are designed to make you uncomfortable,” and work to clarify intent.

From the listening sessions and their own deliberations, the 13 committee members will have a draft plan ready in December at which time more input will be invited. Watch the website, www.ACHFMinnesota.org for updates.