Sunday, October 12, 2008

Nov. 4: Vote YES for Minnesota

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Chapter 1: Vote YES for Minnesota
Chapter 2: Scenes and reflections
Chapter 3: The arts's need
Chapter 4: Allocating the resources

Chapter 1. Vote YES for Minnesota

Growing up with a Republican father and Democratic mother, I developed an early propensity for telling other people how to vote. The impulse was reinforced one very rainy day when my dad and I walked door-to-door distributing leaflets that told people to vote for taxes to build schools. He told me I would take pride and satisfaction in having helped to build them. He was right. This posting continues that tradition.

On Nov. 4, Minnesotans should Vote YES √ on the Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment to protect the Minnesota we love. Those voters who skip this ballot question will be counted as voting no.

YES will amend the Minnesota Constitution to dedicate funding to protect drinking water sources; protect and restore wetlands, prairies, forests, and fish, game, and wildlife habitat; preserve arts and cultural heritage; support parks and trails; and protect and restore lakes, rivers, streams, and groundwater by increasing the sales tax by 3/8 of 1% beginning July 1, 2009. The tax increase will expire after 25 years.

YES will generate $300 million annually, beginning in 2010:

• 33% for a clean water fund;

• 33% for an outdoor heritage fund;

• 19.75% for arts, arts education and access, and preservation of history and cultural heritage;

• 14.25% for parks and trails of regional and statewide significance.

Our natural heritage and arts and culture play important roles in our economy, the tourism industry, and our quality of life. They must be protected and enhanced.

will cost an average household $56 per year in sales tax. It will prevent long-term priorities from falling victim to short-term budget needs, and will produce benefits both tangible and not.

YES invests in the future of our state. Residents of that time and place will applaud our collective foresight, although our individual motivations for voting YES will vary. My own reasons are complex, hold special meaning for me, and have a particular focus on arts and culture.

Chapter 2. Scenes and reflections

Recently, I passed through several Minnesota River towns, traveling south on U.S. Highway 169 from Minneapolis to Mankato. That drive on a sputtering Saturday morning brought to mind many of the stories and things I love about Minnesota.

The city of Shakopee, 17 miles southwest of my house near downtown Minneapolis, serves as the seat of Scott County government and home to the Canterbury Downs racetrack. For decades, it also has hosted the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, a cultural state-of-mind as much as it is a geographical place. The festival serves as an imaginative commercial venue for many of our artists, crafters, and performers from mid-August through September, a time when sumac turns red and seasonal vendors along the roadsides display the enticements of apples, pumpkins, sweet corn, and potatoes – plus loads of caramel for the apples.

Past the town of Belle Plaine, one reaches Le Sueur in the Valley of the Jolly Green Giant, 30 miles from Minneapolis. Here, the Giant Celebration, known formerly as Corn on the Curb Days, takes place for three days every August.

As it passes through the Nicollet County seat of St. Peter, Highway 169 assumes the name of Minnesota Avenue. State residents worth their salt know the story of how Joseph Rolette, a senator, thwarted the attempt in 1857 to move the territorial capital from St. Paul to St. Peter when he absconded with the legislative bill that was on its way to the governor for signature. Gov. Willis Gorman is said to have owned the land on which the capitol building would have been constructed. St. Peter never became a major center of population and commerce.

The town nonetheless became an aspiration of Lutheran boys and girls after Gustavus Adolphus College set up shop a few blocks off of Minnesota Avenue. A liberal arts college of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Gustavus offers study in several artistic disciplines and hosts visiting performers on its campus.

Once upon a time, until life led elsewhere, the college and its iconic Christ Chapel beckoned to me. I have since become increasingly interested in stories about King Gustavus Adolphus, founder of the Swedish Empire during 30 years of warfare that helped preserve the Lutheran Reformation. After his death in 1632, the throne passed to his daughter, Christina. One of my Peterson forbears was among the Swedes who settled the area around Wilmington, Delaware, in the late 1630s, and named the Christina River there after the queen.

Back in present-day Minnesota, Highway 169 soon reaches the cities of Mankato and North Mankato at the place where the Minnesota and Blue Earth rivers meet. Nearly 50,000 people live in the area. I almost joined them for two years.

In 1984, I had been accepted into a Master’s program at Minnesota State University. My partner, James Davies, and I rode a Greyhound Bus from Minneapolis to Mankato to check out the city and the 303-acre campus of 14,000 students. Comparing notes at the end of the day, we learned that both of us had experienced an uninterrupted series of encounters that felt “not quite right.” After some reflection, I interpreted these encounters as “signs” and declined the invitation to study.

That decision had three major consequences in the following years. First, I increased my attendance at various dance classes, leading to more than 20 years of involvement with Minnesota’s dance world and stints as manager of Zenon Dance Company, Zorongo Flamenco Dance Theatre, and James Sewell Ballet. Then, I started co-hosting a radio program for more than eight years, turning my part of the show into a public affairs forum for the Twin Cities GLBT community during the development of the community’s social, political, and commercial infrastructure. Finally, I planned the trip that Davies and I took in 1986 to England, France, Italy, India, and Hong Kong.

From Mankato, Highway 169 continues south through Garden City, Amboy, and Blue Earth, before entering Iowa just past Elmore, the hometown of Vice President Walter Mondale. During a social lunch that Davies and I had with him three years ago, he mentioned that he strongly supports Mrs. Mondale’s advocacy for the arts, but wishes that orchestras played more music by Benny Goodman instead of more classical composers.

American taxpayers have invested in the development and well being of the U.S. highway system since the 1920s. I applaud the foresight of their investments. U.S. Highway 14 begins in Chicago, Illinois, and runs west to Yellowstone National Park, another taxpayer project, in Wyoming. Highway 14 intersects 169 in Mankato.

Within Minnesota, Highway 14 passes through more than 30 towns and cities, including Winona, Rochester, Owatonna, New Ulm, Sleepy Eye, Walnut Grove, Tracy, and Lake Benton. Those who have lived here for any length of time have heard of these places; lifers have visited many of them.

Winona is a college town on the Wisconsin border, home to Saint Mary’s University and the Page Artist Series, the largest presenter of performing artists in southeastern Minnesota. Rochester hosts a large presence by IBM in addition to serving as the world nerve center of the Mayo Clinic. Included among many music and theater organizations in the Rochester region is one of our strongest community theaters, the Rochester Civic Theatre.

Walnut Grove was the real life setting for the Laura Ingalls Wilder book On the Banks of Plum Creek, while Tracy received honorable mention in The Long Winter. I started kindergarten when we lived in Tracy for a year while my dad helped string telephone wires throughout Lyon County. During his visit with us in 1957, my grandpa and I searched the night sky outside our house on Roosevelt Street for a glimpse of Sputnik.

For 49 days between April and June this year, many of us cheered vicariously the unfolding adventure of Sean Bloomfield and Colton Witte. After graduating a month early from Chaska High School, this duo-with-a-dream set off to paddle 2,200 miles up the Minnesota River to Big Stone Lake, “down” the Red River to Lake Winnipeg, across that lake to the Hayes River, and then through several rapids to York Factory on Hudson Bay.

The men drew their inspiration from Canoeing With the Cree, the book by Eric Sevareid that recounted his trip with Walter Port along the same route in 1930 at age 18. After receiving his BA from the University of Minnesota, Sevareid built an international career as a print and electronic journalist and commentator. Bloomfield and Witte are now freshmen at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Reportedly, one of their next adventures will be a kayak race in Alaska. We look forward to following their adventures.

Recently, I wrote about the role that water and lakes have played in my life and in the lives of Minnesotans. My family’s camping, swimming, and fishing experiences included Lake Minnetonka in Hennepin County, Fish Lake near Cambridge, Crooked Lake in Anoka, the North Shore of Lake Superior, and lakes near Alexandria, Bemidji, Annandale, Buffalo, and Chisago City. Years ago, we caught small mouth bass while standing in the middle of the Mississippi River downstream from the nuclear power plant in Monticello. More years ago, my parents and I stood in Lake Itasca at the Mississippi’s headwaters.

One specific lake eluded me.

In the late 1960s, I ran with a crowd that had an affinity for the theater department at St. Cloud State University where many of us vowed to pursue our careers as thespians. St. Cloud is located 72 miles northwest of Minneapolis, just off I-94. Seventy miles further is Alexandria, where St. Cloud State is affiliated with Theatre L’Homme Dieu, a professional summer theater situated on Lake L’Homme Dieu. We thought – at least, I did, until life led elsewhere – that spending summers performing on the L’Homme Dieu stage would mean we had arrived in life.

The Minnesota Historical Society preserves our stories by operating archives, museums, and 26 historic sites, including the Minnesota History Center, Mill City Museum, Historic Fort Snelling, Split Rock Lighthouse, Mille Lacs Indian Museum, Charles A. Lindbergh House, and others. In addition, many of the state’s 87 counties maintain their own historical societies; I saw a couple of them on Highway 169.

I gained first-hand appreciation for the value of these repositories from my travels in Kansas rather than in Minnesota. In a journey of great discovery and insight eight years ago, supported by the Jerome Foundation, I spent two weeks reviewing old newspapers, census records, photos, and histories in Topeka, Junction City, Salina, Dodge City, Meade, and Arlington. From the individual threads gleaned at each of these stops, I was able to weave together the 360-year story of one family’s pursuit of the American Dream and to place it in the context of a nation’s effort to perfect itself.

I applaud the foresight of those who established and have maintained historical societies, large and small, in all parts of our country.

Minnesota’s 19,600 individual artists and nearly 1,600 nonprofit arts and culture organizations provide full-time jobs for more than 22,000 people. An additional 10,400 for-profit arts businesses employ more than 58,000 people. This industry generates annual state and local government revenues of $94 million, and nearly a billion dollars of economic activity.

In 2004, statewide attendance for arts and culture activities totaled 14,487,592, more than triple the combined attendance of 4,610,201 for all professional sports teams. I have enjoyed attending both arts events and sports events.

In addition to direct economic returns, our arts and culture industry attracts businesses and their employees, stimulates development, and drives tourism. Five of our top tourist draws are the Walker Art Center, Guthrie Theater, Ordway Center, Orchestra Hall, and the Children’s Theatre.

I know this scene well. With dance companies, I worked with people in more than 50 communities, as far ranging as Grand Rapids, Crookston, Morris, Fergus Falls, Scandia, Little Falls, and Ely. Over the years, I have been a member of 18 panels that reviewed arts grant applications and recommended funding. This process has made me familiar with hundreds of individuals and organizations, in all disciplines and corners of the state – Lanesboro, Duluth, and Rochester among them.

At whatever stage of their artistic development, all of these people embody the core values of artistic excellence, accountability and transparency as stewards of public resources, innovation, and respectful partnering in the intellectual and creative development of our people.

Chapter 3. The arts’s need

The legislature established the first state arts agency in 1903. Successive changes fixed its name as the Minnesota State Arts Board, and established 11 regional arts councils to distribute funds and to maintain a degree of local involvement and decision-making. Public investments in the short- and long-term health of our arts and culture industry reach all 87 counties.

Although the legislature has been episodically very generous in its appropriations for the arts, its overall investment has not kept pace with inflation and growth of field since 1977:

• The 1977 appropriation of $500,000 is worth $1.8 million in 2008 dollars. A lobbying effort by Minnesota Citizens for the Arts succeeded in raising the 1978 appropriation to $1.77 million – equal to $5.98 million in 2008. Subsequent appropriations increased or decreased modestly from 1978 until 1983, when the appropriation was cut to $1.5 million.

• The 1983 appropriation of $1.5 million was equal to $2.48 million in 1997 dollars, a year when the actual appropriation was, more favorably, $6.98 million. However, the annual appropriations in that 14-year period fluctuated, year-by-year, within a range from –7% to +52%.

• With passage of the initiative by Gov. Arne Carlson, the legislature appropriated $13 million for 1998. This was reduced somewhat to $12.6 million for 2002, and to $8.59 million for each year 2003 to 2007.

• The appropriation for 2008 is $10.33 million – 73% higher than 30 years ago, after 1978 is adjusted to 2008 dollars. The average annual rate of inflation over the 30 years was 4.14%.

• The average annual inflation rate of 2.71% during the 10 years from 1998 to 2008 makes the $13 million appropriation for 1998 equal to $17 million in 2008 and, if extended, $17.9 million in 2010.

Along with our natural heritage, the arts need a stable and protected source of funding. The YES amendment will provide that.

Chapter 4. Allocating the resources

The legislature will retain oversight of the designated funds generated by the YES amendment. It is estimated that $58 million will be generated annually for arts and culture beginning in 2010. A possible $28 million of those funds will be allocated to historical societies and cultural heritage.

It is expected, but not yet established, that the Minnesota State Arts Board and the Regional Arts Councils will serve as the legislature’s vehicles for administering $30 million of new resources for the arts. Members of those bodies have been holding conversations with artists and organizations about how the money might best be spent. I also have a list of suggestions for them to consider.

First, however, let us assume that – instead of having $30 million of new money, added to $10.3 million of existing money, making $40.3 million available for 2010 – we will have $30 million of total money actually available.

A number of factors could produce that scenario. We know that (a) the legislature that convenes in February to craft budgets for 2010 and 2011 will face a projected deficit for that biennium of at least $1 billion, and possibly as much as $4 billion; (b) the governor is loathe to raise taxes; (c) the state and national economies are in less than sterling shape; and (d) a major lobbying effort will probably be required to maintain the current appropriation. As prudent stewards, we should plan for how we will “make do” under the more conservative scenario.

My wish list begins by restoring all arts programs for 2010 to the level they enjoyed in 1998 when funding was $13 million. This will require an allocation of $17.9 million to fund the same programs for the same number of communities, organizations, and individual artists, adjusted for inflation.

The following funding increases should then be made to allow for inflation and growth of field: (a) Individual artist initiatives - $1 million; (b) Institutional organization support - $1.5 million; (c) Presenting organization support - $500,000; (d) Arts Across Minnesota touring - $500,000; (e) Arts education initiatives - $2 million.

The powers-that-will-be should make an annual grant of $250,000 to the Performing Arts Archives at the University of Minnesota. This grant should be earmarked specifically to accelerate the acquisition, processing, and retention of records for archival purposes from performing arts organizations throughout Minnesota.

Prior to 2003, the McKnight Foundation’s capital program made equipment and technical assistance grants to its grantees over and above its general operating grants. Grantees were eligible for one capital grant every five years. Applications were straight-forward, and their approval helped build an organization’s physical infrastructure, including such things as telephones that work, computer networks that can talk to each other, lighting equipment, portable floors, etc.

Anyone who has participated on a Regional Arts Council panel to decide which six of 18 equally meritorious applicants should get computer hardware and software will understand this need. An $850,000 pool of technical assistance funds should be administered by the Regional Arts Councils for all grantees of the Arts Board and the RACs, regardless of budget size.

If innovation and collaboration are keys to advancement in any endeavor, then funds should be available to any individual artist or arts organization to commission new work from Minnesota artists in all disciplines. A $500,000 pool of commissioning funds, administered by the Minnesota State Arts Board, should be available to applicants in amounts up to $50,000, with 20% of the available pool reserved for grants of $15,000 or less.

Once annually, members of the Minnesota State Arts Board and the Forum of Regional Arts Councils should convene as the [new] Minnesota Cultural Facilities Commission. The commission should have a $2.5 million pool of funds with which to make annual planning grants of up to $500,000, and capital construction grants of up to $2 million, for projects whose total cost will be $10 million or less. This body also should recommend statewide priorities to the legislature for capital bonding projects costing more than $10 million.

Finally, as a consequence of present economic conditions and activities, it is probable that portfolios of many of the more than 100 foundations that provide grants to the arts in Minnesota will be adversely affected, leading to a decrease in the numbers and sizes of their grants. A funding pool of $2.5 million should be reserved for emergency budget relief for existing arts organizations for 2010, and subsequent years as needed. The criteria and logistics of such a program are beyond the scope of this essay.

That is how I would spend $30,000,000.

How would you spend it?

All of it is academic until you Vote YES on Nov. 4!

No comments: