Friday, July 10, 2009

How to spend Minnesota's public arts money

Minneapolis, Minnesota

The directors and staffs of the Minnesota State Arts Board and the eleven Regional Arts Councils have an opportunity without precedent to invest in the future of our state and build an arts legacy second-to-none, provided they think and act globally as well as locally, daringly as well as prudently.

Last Nov. 4, more than 56% of Minnesota's voters said YES to the Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment to the
Minnesota Constitution. Starting July 1, Legacy increased the state sales tax by 3/8 of 1% for 25 years to dedicate funds for lakes, rivers, streams, groundwater, wetlands, prairies, forests, fish, game, wildlife habitat, parks, and trails. The amendment also provides 19.75% of the collected funds for arts, arts education and access, and preservation of history and cultural heritage.

With statewide lobbying by Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, the 2009 Minnesota Legislature appropriated the first Legacy funds for fiscal years 2010 and 2011 (as reported by MCA):

Funding to the arts via the Minnesota State Arts Board and Regional Arts Councils will increase by $21,650,000 per year for the next two years, for a total of $43.3 million. Added to the $8.6 million passed in the state’s economic development bill, there will now be just over $30 million in state funding for the arts annually, compared to just over $10 million annually this year.

Here is how it breaks down in each year, 2010 and 2011:

  • $16,775,000 for Arts and Arts Access Initiatives, “to support Minnesota’s artists and arts organizations in creating, producing and presenting high-quality arts activities; to overcome barriers to accessing high-quality arts activities, and to instill the arts into the community and public life in this state.”
  • $3,245,000 for Arts Education Collaborations, for “high-quality, age-appropriate arts education for Minnesotans of all ages to develop knowledge, skills, and understanding of the arts”
  • $1,080,000 for Arts in Cultural Heritage, “for events and activities that represent the diverse ethnic and cultural arts traditions, including folk and traditional artists and art organizations represented in this state, ” and
  • $550,000 for Fiscal Oversight and Accountability (to the MSAB). The first three items above will be available 70% from the MSAB and 30% from the Regional Arts Councils.
  • In addition to the dedicated funding above, libraries received $4.25 million per year which “may be used to sponsor programs provided by regional libraries, or to provide grants to local arts and heritage programs for programs in partnership with regional libraries,” (i.e., opportunities for artists and arts organizations to work with libraries).
  • Also, the Humanities Center received $300,000 per year for “museums and organizations celebrating the ethnic identities of Minnesotans” to re-grant, so there may be further opportunities for artists and arts organizations.

In addition, over the next two years, the Minnesota Historical Society will receive $14.4 million, public television $6.3 million, Minnesota Public Radio $2.65 million, AMPERS (local public radio) $2.65 million, children’s museums $1 million, the Science Museum of Minnesota $900,000, Minnesota Zoos $900,000, libraries $8.5 million, Indian Affairs Council (for projects related to the preservation of native languages) $1.9 million, Perpich Center for Arts Education $1 million, and the Minnesota Humanities Center, $2.1 million.

Pretty amazing? Look up from your screen and say "YES!"

Following the legislature's adjournment, staff of the Minnesota State Arts Board conducted a series of forums throughout the state to solicit feedback about funding principles and suggestions for specific funding areas. Currently, the MSAB's thinking embraces the following principles:

• Statewide approach
• Demographic and geographic fairness
• Sustainability
Anticipatory and flexible
Transparency and public involvement
Accountability and stewardship

I attended the public forum in Minneapolis on June 6 and, with 40 others, ran my mouth for two hours about how the MSAB and the RACs should spend Minnesota's public arts money for the next two years.
It was a fascinating and stimulating discussion. In the run-up to last November's balloting, I wrote here on Oct. 12 about the reasons why Minnesotans might want to vote YES, along with suggestions for how funds might be spent, with related posts on Oct. 29, Oct. 30, Nov. 5, and Jan. 22.

Today's Minnesota Mist posting updates and reflects my current thinking on the subject in response to the MSAB's request for input. You also should share your thinking, by the means described below.

I know what I am writing about. Besides knocking around Minnesota's arts milieu as a relatively successful arts administrator working with more than 50 communities during nearly 30 years, over the past 10 years, I served on 18 grant review panels for the Minnesota State Arts Board, the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council, and the Jerome Foundation. In that service I analyzed and commented about the programs, administrations, and finances of hundreds of small and mid-sized organizations. During the 1990s, I worked with the Bush Foundation and its consortium of funding agencies to raise $100,000 to assist arts organizations, post-flood, in Grand Forks, North Dakota. For many years, I led an organization with access to a $100,000 commercial line of credit based upon my signature. In my consulting activities, I have reviewed and analyzed the tax returns and financial statements of more than 24 organizations. Along the way, I have coached many individual artists and ensembles on a variety of organization, program, administrative, and life issues.

These activities have made me familiar with hundreds of individuals and organizations in all disciplines and corners of the state – from Lanesboro and Rochester in the southeast, to Duluth and Grand Rapids in the north, to Fargo and Fergus Falls in the northwest, and the nine-to-13 counties of the Twin Cities region.
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.

Although the legislature previously 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. Individual elected representatives and senators who support the arts must acknowledge that fact of life, even as they seek to downplay their complicity in its reality. In this, the legislature differs not at all from the intents, practices, and capacities of our major corporate and foundation grant-making agencies.

With passage of the initiative by Minnesota's former governor, Arne Carlson, the legislature appropriated $13 million for the arts in 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 was $10.33 million. The average annual inflation rate of 2.71% during the 10 years from 1998 to 2008 made the $13 million appropriation for 1998 equal to $17 million in 2008 and, if extended, $17.9 million in 2010.

My current assumptions, for the points that follow below: $21,650,000 of new annual funding + $8,600,000 of "existing funding" = $30,250,000 of annual funding in 2010 and 2011.

My wish list for 2010 and 2011 begins with the principle of restoring, through the rule-making process, all MSAB and RAC programs to the levels they enjoyed in 1998 when funding was $13 million. This restoration would 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, but also adjusted for current, statutory mandates
and circumstances that recognize how communities, organizations, artists, and programs have changed or gone away over the past seven years. By what rationale would the MSAB and RACs do otherwise?

Then, the following minimum funding increases should be made to existing programs to allow for inflation and growth of field: (a) Individual artist initiatives, $1.25 million; (b) Institutional organization (general operating) support, $1.75 million; (c) Presenting organization support, $750,000; (d) Arts Across Minnesota touring, $750,000; (e) Arts education initiatives, $1 million.

All grants to individual artists by the MSAB or the RACs should equal or exceed $10,000. While current grants of lesser amounts for projects encourage the pursuit of artistic excellence, they rarely allow it to be realized. By what rationale should the grant amounts be less than $10,000?

If we believe that innovation and collaboration are keys to advancement, then funds should be available to any individual artist or arts organization, of any size, to commission new work from Minnesota artists in all disciplines. A $500,000 pool of commissioning funds, administered by the Minnesota State Arts Board on a once-per-year basis, 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.

In the interest of sustainability, and to build infrastructure, the RACs should annually administer and grant from an $850,000 pool of technical assistance and equipment funds for all grantees of the MSAB and the RACs, regardless of budget size. The size of a specific grant should be without limit within the constraints of the total pool of available funds. 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 easy and 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, choral risers at park pavilions, etc. For whatever good reasons, McKnight needed to discontinue this program; need for the program continues.

The MSAB should surmount bureaucratic obstacles and make an annual grant of up to $350,000 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 – broadly defined – for archival purposes from performing arts organizations throughout Minnesota.

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 from 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.

In the interests of inclusiveness and demographic and geographic fairness, new program initiatives should make $1.5 million available statewide on an annual basis for music organizations (rock and roll bands, rhythm and blues bands, GLBT bands, Christian or other sectarian instrumental/vocal groups, VFW and American Legion bands, community theaters, and bands and choirs of specific affinity groups). These initiatives should provide streamlined processes for idiosyncratic grants of as little as $500 to $1,000.

A $1 million pool of funds, administered by the MSAB, should be dedicated to experiments in the provision of administrative infrastructure for organizations with budgets less than $200,000. Current RAC programs provide funds to hire consultants who can tell artists what they need to do. This new funding pool would aim to provide the savvy skill-sets to actually do the work.

All grants should be available to organizations that are not necessarily 501(c)(3) under the Internal Revenue Service code. Provision should be made for those, for instance, that are organized as limited liability corporations (LLC). If one considers that grants made to individual artists are made to "for profit" individuals, then it is not a major stretch to conclude that grants will be appropriate to some organizations that are "for profit."

Finally, although members of the legislature made it clear that a minimum of new arts funding should support increased staffing of the MSAB, the state's collective arts community should push back and insist that a minimum of $150,000 in new funds be devoted to the support of staffing positions at the agency. In other words, get the politicians out of the micromanaging of the personnel resources needed to conduct the agency's operations which have been understaffed for several years.

Now, it is your turn to weigh-in. Sue Gens, executive director, Minnesota State Arts Board, issued the following message on July 10:

Recently, the Minnesota State Arts Board and Minnesota's 11 regional arts councils completed a statewide series of public forums. The purpose was to collect input on how best to invest the new arts and cultural heritage funds that will become available this year. We are grateful to everyone who participated in these sessions.

If you were not able to participate, there is another way for you to provide input. Please take a few minutes to visit the Arts Board's Web site and share your thoughts by completing an online survey at

By what rationale would you not want to tell MSAB how to spend Minnesota's public arts money?

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