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Legacy amendment infuses area with dollars for arts, conservation

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news Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Pioneer
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Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

While it appears Minneapolis, the state and the Minnesota Vikings are close to a preliminary agreement on how to pay for a $975 million Vikings stadium, Terri Widman is not breathing sigh of relief just yet.

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The executive director of the Region 2 Arts Council said Friday that until an official agreement has been signed, there is still a chance lawmakers could decide to use dollars from the 2008 Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment for funding the stadium.

Last week, Widman and representatives from two organizations that rely on Legacy Amendment money, told the Pioneer that losing these dollars to a stadium would do devastating harm to the Bemidji area.

"We're worried, considering the great deal of resources coming to the Bemidji area from Legacy funding, there's a real threat the Legislature will try to use Legacy funding for the Vikings Stadium," said Sheila Smith, the executive director of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts.

While Smith said her organization does not oppose a new Vikings stadium, she said using Legacy dollars is the wrong source of funding.

"The voters themselves designated those dollars for conservation and arts and history and it would be a real betrayal of the voters if (state lawmakers) took it and used it on a stadium which it was never intended to be used for," Smith said.

Minnesota provides funding for the arts through the State Arts Board and a system of 11 nonprofit organizations known as regional arts councils. The Region 2 Arts Council in Bemidji serves Clearwater, Hubbard, Lake of the Woods, Beltrami and Mahnomen counties.

The state board and the regional arts councils receive funding from the state's general fund and from funds allocated by the Legacy Amendment, which dedicated three-eighths of 1 percent of sales tax revenue to land, water, parks and art/history projects.

Since 2010, the Region 2 Arts Council has given roughly $201,000 to individual artists, arts organizations, nonprofits, schools and government offices in Beltrami County, Widman said.

Overall, the Region 2 Arts Council has given $356,000 to individuals and places throughout the five-county region, she said.

"These funds specifically have affected thousands of people in the county because we are a cultural hub for our five-county region," she said. "That's why Beltrami County gets most of the funding."

Some of the more notable local projects that have been funded by Legacy amendment are the artist mentor grant, which was resurrected after 15 years, Widman said.

"It's the next generation of artists coming in who are studying one-on-one with professional artists who are local to our area," she said.

The Region 2 Arts Council also used Legacy funds to fund a community arts support program that helps arts organizations receive nonprofit tax designation.

"It helps them apply for other grants besides us," Widman said. "We support them through a variety of measures like operating expenses, small equipment and arts programming."

Other local organizations, like the Headwaters School of Music & the Arts, Mask & Rose Theater, Boys & Girls Club of the Bemidji Area, Bemidji Public Library and the Hope House, have all received grant dollars from the regional council to help with special arts programming, Widman said.

Paul Austin, director of Conservation Minnesota, a nonprofit organization that works to inform Minnesotans about the state's natural resources, said the La Salle Lake State Recreation Area was one area project funded by Legacy dollars.

The 1,000-acre property, eight miles north of Itasca State Park on Hubbard County Road 9, includes the entire shoreline of La Salle Lake. It was authorized by the Minnesota State Legislature during the 2011 legislative session and was acquired by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in late October with funds from the Legacy Amendment.

In November, Sen. John Carlson, R-Bemidji, Rep. Dave Hancock, R-Bemidji, Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, and Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, told the Pioneer they opposed the idea of using Legacy funds for a Vikings stadium.

Austin said while most of the Legacy funds are being used for what they were originally intended for, he said his organization is still keeping an eye on how Legacy dollars are spent.

"We want to stop any sort of concerning trends before they get too far down the road," he said. "We need to make sure the public knows we need to keep an eye on what's happening and make sure with so many of the members of public supporting this, that what they wanted to have happen is what happens."

Legacy weekend

Bemidji was recently selected by Explore Minnesota, Conservation Minnesota and Minnesota Citizens for the Arts as a 2012 Legacy Destination site.

Bemidji is one of three cities in the state to host the event twice. This year it is set to be held June 11-17.

More than 30 activities or projects that have been or are being funded by Legacy dollars will be on display for the public during the week. Details are still being worked out.

Smith said Bemidji was selected to host the event again because of how cooperative various arts and natural resources groups have been.

"Bemidji has a great cooperative working team of all of the arts and cultural and parks and trails groups," Smith said. "Everyone works together really well and it's easy to do it here."

Austin said Legacy Destination weekends are designed to help out local economies by inspiring tourism and also to promote the projects Legacy dollars fund.

"It's a great way for everyone to learn first-hand what the legacy amendment is supporting in the area," he said.

According to Austin, there is no community in the state not being affected in some way by Legacy funding.

"There's no place this isn't reaching," he said. "It's all happening in little chunks, so sometimes people don't see it. This is why it's important to showcase it and let people celebrate what's going on because the voters did it."

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