Legacy Amendment: Arts community celebrates funding

Artisans in a five-county region will share $244,000 in new program grants, thanks to new state sales tax revenues through the Legacy Amendment. "I have the luckiest job in the state right now," Sue Gens, executive director of the Minnesota State...

The Bemidji arts community celebrated the arrival of $244,000 in Legacy Amendment funding on Friday night at the Bemidji Community Arts Center. Speakers included Sheila Smith, left, executive director of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, and Sue Gens, executive director of the Minnesota State Arts Board. Pioneer Photo/Brad Swenson

Artisans in a five-county region will share $244,000 in new program grants, thanks to new state sales tax revenues through the Legacy Amendment.

"I have the luckiest job in the state right now," Sue Gens, executive director of the Minnesota State Arts Board, said Friday night at a celebration in the Bemidji Community Arts Center.

"People in Minnesota really love the arts," Gens said to about 30 people. "They say we love what you're doing but we want more, and we want more people to have the chance to be part of this."

Voters in 2008 approved the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment to amend the State Constitution, raising the state sales tax 0.375 percent as a dedicated fund. The largest share of it, 33 percent, goes to clean water programs.

But 19.75 percent of the new tax goes to a new Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund to be used on arts, arts education and arts access, and to preserve Minnesota's history and cultural heritage. The fund is expected to have $48 million for fiscal 2010 and $54.5 million for fiscal 2011.


The Minnesota State Arts Board has jurisdiction over half the funds.

"All of the money is being granted out in three categories," Gens said., "arts access, arts learning and arts and cultural heritage."

She said new monies are available statewide for arts tours, community arts schools and conservatories, arts learning programs and community festivals.

"The message is about stewardship," Gens said. "We have this great opportunity, we have this great opportunity will all this new money, and we have a lot of people who are watching us."

Minnesota, as well as the nation, has budget problems. Gens said most states spend less than $1 per capita on the arts, but it's more than $5 per person in Minnesota.

"We're thinking in the long-term term, how can be build a legacy over 25 years that we can be so proud of," Gens asked. That's when people again will vote to renew the dedicated constitutional fund.

"If you're a grantee, a volunteer within in arts organization, if you're an artist, make sure that people understand that it's because of the Legacy dollars," she said.

"The rubber's finally hitting the road here," said Sheila Smith, executive director of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts. The Legacy Amendment came after a marriage of sportsmen - who tried for years to pass a sales tax for the outdoors - and the arts community.


"The dollars are starting to come out of the Legislature and go where we had intended them to go all along, which was in our communities in every corner of the state," she said. "It's very exciting, especially in these economic times ... which is really testing the survival skills of non-profit arts organizations all across the state."

The Legacy funds "are kicking in right when everybody needs them," Smith said. The new monies "has really ignited a fire in the arts on a statewide basis."

The new monies will mean $244,000 a year for two years for the Region 2 Arts Council, which includes Beltrami, Clearwater, Hubbard, Mahnomen and Lake of the Woods counties, said Katie Carter, program assistant for the region.

"The Minnesota voters spoke clearly and loudly that they wanted money to go to the environment and the arts, two incredibly important components of our world that enhance our lives," Carter said.

People were surveyed in the five counties to determine needs, with more arts access the top issue. Also important was arts education opportunities, she said.

"They wanted to use art as a means to connect Minnesotans and cultures," Carter said. "Art is a real universal language, and people realize that. ... They get that art is communication."

Artists say they need more programming for professional development, marketing, pricing of their work, figuring out a way to sustain themselves as individuals, Carter said.

"A working dancer is as important as a lawyer," she said. "These are all people, they're part of our economic world, they're part of our lives, and we're lucky here ... with the livelihood of the arts."


Some of the new offerings include:

- A $600 grant program for eighth- to 12-grade students who want to work one-on-one with an artist in an mentorship of 20 hours or more. Music, theater, visual arts, woodworking are all viable arts and crafts.

- Arts and Cultural Heritage grants of $3,000 for individual artists or $6,000 for non-profits, schools and other organizations that want to promote programming.

- A grant up to $10,000 for communities to use art to create economic development.

"The arts make our community life simply better," Carters said. "We want to be part of that."

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