What’s in the box, and what’s out of the box? Minnesotans voice their views on Legacy Amendment arts and culture spending


Decisions about how to spend the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund are still underway, and as part of the process, a listening session was held on October 21 at the History Center in St. Paul to discuss the guidelines by which legacy dollars will be spent.

The listening session was one of a series of sessions hosted by the Minnesota Historical Society, the Minnesota State Arts Board, the Minnesota Humanites Center, and ten other history, arts and cultural organization and libraries that make up the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund committee. Bill Svrluga of WJS Consulting facilitated the meeting. In addition to gaining feedback from the open sessions, the committee also has a survey on their Web site where citizens can send in their feedback. 

The first question, “What is your vision for arts, history and cultural heritage in Minnesota in 2035?” had a variety of responses. Erin Hart, a Minnesota novelist, said her vision was that Minnesotans would gain an understanding of folk and traditional arts. Linda Henning, Board President of the Perpich Foundation, said she hoped the history of art would be integrated into the study of world and American history. Chad Roberts, from the Dakota County Historical Society, said he hoped history and culture would be better preserved, more accessible and that authentic historical experiences would be available. Another responder hoped for Minnesota to be recognized for the quality and variety of cultural life, and that it would be a model for other states. Others hoped for increased partnerships between arts and cultural organizations, more support for smaller organizations, and that creativity would be regarded as an essential trait for all citizens.

The second question was: “As you look out at your 25-year vision and all the options to choose from, what fundamental assumptions should guide how the money should be spent?” A number of participants called for better access to arts and culture for people in rural areas. Arts education was raised as an issue of importance, as was accessibility of arts and culture. Dennis Meissner, Head of Collections Management for the Minnesota Historical Society, sad that Culture needed to be accessible to all Minnesotans. Minnesota State Senator Sandy Rummel said that she hoped the fund would be able to adapt to changing culture. “We don’t know what will happen in 20 years,” she said. Rummel also hoped for a transparency of process, and that decisions about who gets funding didn’t happen “behind closed doors.” Other participants hoped that the fund would prove sustainable for years to come, and that it would not have too many requirements, which make it hard for smaller organizations to benefit from it. Karen Nelson, from the Hennepin Theatre Trust, said she hoped that arts and culture would come to be viewed as being as essential as road repair or medical spending.

The third question, “What specific goals/results should we aim to achieve over the next 10 years?” generated responses such as the idea that every citizen should get an arts pass to see an art event for free once a month. Cynthia Stokes, from the Pops Orchestra, hoped that everyone should have the opportunity to hear or see professional groups for free. Joe Haas, from the Minnesota Guitar Society, said there ought to be a Minnesota arts calendar, to which someone else pointed out that mnartists.org already serves that purpose. Chris Olson from Regional Public Library said he hoped that every child would have a library card and would attend library programs that would prepare them from school. One participant said they hoped that the legacy money could go toward funding equal access to private arts instruction, such as music lessons. Another suggestion was work on audience development, promoting a demand for arts. Al Justiniano, from Teatro del Pueblo, suggested that more international collaborations should be encouraged “because Minnesota can showcase their talents elsewhere, and benefit from experiencing art from other countries here.”

The final question was “There are a number of opinions as to what is in or out of the arts, history, and cultural heritage ‘sandbox.’ What should be eligible for the arts, history and cultural heritage state funding and what should not be eligible?” For this question, Bill Svrluga produced a box, and asked participants to say what should go on the inside of the box, which gets funding, and what goes on the outside of the box, which does not. Participants said that museums, performing arts organizations, and capacity building for arts organizations should go inside the box. Outside the box were such things as “for-profit media,” religious institutions, and sports stadiums. When Svrluga asked partipants to name entitites that were “on the line” between funding and not funding, participants named public radio, individual artists, and arts Education as possible “gray zones.”

If you would like to submit your answers, you can check the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund Web site for future listening session dates. You can also submit your own answers on the online survey.