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A forewarning: This promises to be a lengthy post. It’s actually a response to a survey that was posted online, but that seems to have disappeared without warning. The survey was a call for input on the 10- and 25-year goals the arts, history and cultural heritage community should attempt to reach in using funding collected through Minnesota’s Legacy Amendment tax.

For those of you who don’t follow the political scene in Minnesota, the Legacy Amendment was a constitutional amendment passed by voters in November 2008 to increase the sales tax percentage a smidge and dedicate that funding to the environment and arts, history and cultural heritage in the state.

An allocations bill that went through Conference Committee further defined and qualified how Legacy Amendment funds were to be spent, spelling out certain processes, including the formation of a committee that would create a 10- and 25-year plan for what the arts, history and cultural heritage portion of the funding should achieve. This committee was to seek public input, hence the online survey for those of us who couldn’t attend the various public meetings that were held around the state.

I started filling out this online survey a couple of weeks ago, but soon realized that the questions being asked deserved far more than “quicky” answers. (No radio buttons or check boxes with this survey, no sir.) Because of this, I stopped taking the survey, opting instead to run through it and pull the questions, copying and pasting them into a Word document so that I could take time to formulate answers. I discussed the survey questions with Hubby and Eldest Son and we bounced thoughts off of each other. I took notes.

Now that I have responses and the time to fill out the survey, the survey is gone. (Was there a posted deadline? I don’t remember seeing one, but that could be chalked up to my inattentiveness or slippery memory. There’s just too much to pack into this head of mine.)

My blog is coming to the rescue. I’ve decided to post the survey questions and my responses here. Get ready … get set … GO!

Creating a 25 year vision for arts, history and cultural heritage in Minnesota. A vision is a “picture” of what you would like to see in the future.

What is your vision for arts, history and cultural heritage in Minnesota in 2035?

That the arts, history & cultural heritage be considered so integral to the state that people no longer question funding these areas. That they not only be considered “feel-good fluff,” but that they are considered economically essential.

Within 25 years (better yet, this could be a 10-year goal), the Minnesota State Arts Board (MSAB), Minnesota Historical Society (MHS), and Minnesota Humanities Center (MHC) should put together, and heavily promote, a report on what the arts, history and cultural heritage organizations contribute to the economy of the state. Some of this has already been done, particularly by the arts community, but the message does not seem to be reaching people that the arts, history and cultural heritage have a major positive impact on our state. While we are fine with allowing tax subsidies for private businesses because of the jobs they create, why do those in the arts/history/cultural heritage sector have to keep working so hard to prove their worth and make their case?

This 25-year goal was suggested by Eldest Son. He wants to see more art by Minnesota artists installed in public places.

Hubby would like to see the arts fully funded within our schools. Barring that, he would like to see the Perpich Center for the Arts expanded to include other satellite locations throughout the state so that students from northern Minnesota don’t have to travel so far to take advantage of this opportunity.

I would like to set an audacious goal. Why not make Minnesota the #1 haven for artists in the United States? On the history front, I’d like to see as much respect afforded to smaller historical organizations as is afforded to the Minnesota Historical Society. We’re all doing the same work, after all, just on a different scale. As for cultural heritage, I would like to have our state’s citizens recognize that our diversity is much more diverse than the questions we have to fill out concerning this on our government forms.

Developing a set of guiding principles.

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?

The arts, history and cultural heritage are all important to the state and one area should not be significantly more supported than another. There should be transparency in how this tax money is spent througout the 25 years.

The money should be spend throughout the state, without unfairly supporting high population areas. There should be representation from all of the economic development regions in the state reviewing how this money is spent.

Currently, between the Historic Resources Advisory Committee (HRAC) and the Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund Committee, there are 13 representatives from Region 11 and 12 representatives from only five other development regions in the state. There are seven economic development regions without any representation whatsoever on either committee. There needs to be regular turnover on the HRAC, with people from other geographic regions being given a chance to serve.

There should be opportunities for people of all ages and cultural groups to participate in projects supported with Legacy Amendment funds. We shouldn’t concentrate on just kids or seniors or some other limited group.

Legacy Amendment funds should not be used to spin organizations off their missions. I attended a library meeting discussing the use of Legacy funds and those leading the meeting let us know that the funds were not to be used for typical library activities, like book groups. Instead, libraries were being pushed to come up with new activities related to the arts, history and culture. One suggestion was that the library should bring the symphony to town. Being as how our area already has a symphony, school bands, a music center, and an arts center that brings in musicians, what would be the purpose in the library serving this need? This is a case of money pushing an organization’s mission in an unintended direction. Is this what voters intended when they voted for the Legacy Amendment? (Not this voter.)

On a related note, during every Legacy Amendment meeting I’ve attended (four of them), a phrase used by Rep. Mary Murphy has been invoked. She gave the arts, history and cultural heritage community the directive that whatever was funded had to have “Wow! factor.” To date, “Wow! factor” has not been defined, which means that people are left scratching their heads. New boxes for packing artifacts may meet the “Wow! factor” for a museum, but look terribly boring to a legislator. I did not vote for “Wow! factor” and it does not appear anywhere in the Legacy Amendment. Could we please stop getting stuck on this phrase or, at the very least, ask for a definition?

Finally, we need to remain flexible with the Legacy Amendment and be able to redefine aspects of this vague-in-places legislation as we move through time. After all, a lot can change in 25 years. We were wearing leg warmers as a fashion statement in 1984, but I haven’t seen a whole lot of those around lately.

10 year goals.

What specific goals/results should we aim to achieve over the next 10 years?

Personally, I thought this question should come before the previous one in the survey, so by 10 years I think we ought to have made significant progress on our 25-year goals. Public opinion on the economic viability of the arts, history and cultural heritage should be starting to sway in a positive direction, with the public beginning to be proud of what the state has to offer along these lines.

I’d also like to see attitudes shift regarding how much those in the arts, history and cultural heritage organizations deserve to be paid. Employees in these fields have as much expertise as those in traditional businesses, so it should be a given that they deserve, and should receive, a living wage, rather than being expected to “suffer” for their “art.”

In regards to the history field, by the 10-year mark, it would be nice to compare the state’s overall progress in preservation to the nationwide Heritage Health Index to see how we stack up.

By the 10-year mark, I’d also like to have a good idea of what the Minnesota Humanities Center does. While I can easily tell you what the Minnesota State Arts Board and Minnesota Historical Society do, I’m drawing a blank with MHC.

In 2020 what needs to be true? What do we need to have accomplished by 2020 related to arts, history and cultural heritage in MN?

Is it just me, or is this a repeat of the last question?

Definitions of Arts, History and Cultural Heritage.

There are a number of opinions as to what is in or out of the arts, history and cultural heritage “box.” Article XI, section 15 of the Minnesota constitution states that “19.75 percent [of the sales tax dedicated funds] shall be deposited in the arts and cultural heritage fund and may be spent only for arts, arts education, and arts access and to preserve Minnesota’s history and cultural heritage.” What do you think should be eligible for the arts, history and cultural heritage funding and what should not be eligible?

This question sounds like Heidi Klum from Project Runway. “Either you are in, or you are out!” (For best effect, say this with a German accent.) Taking off on the Project Runway theme, Hubby thought that everything eligible ought to be “FIERCE,” although that’s as ill-defined as “Wow! factor.” And herein lies the problem with this entire question and the next one:

What are examples of what you see as in and out of the arts, history and cultural heritage box?

We need definitions of art, history and cultural heritage. Entire college courses could be devoted to the definition of art and we still wouldn’t come to a solid conclusion. History might be easier to define in that it refers to anything that has happened in the past, but is everything from the past worth saving? Cultural heritage is not much better. Which culture’s heritage do we want to celebrate? A broad, homogenous culture, or the gazillions of sub-cultures that make up Minnesota? Can a GLBT group ask for funding based on its cultural heritage? What about a motorcycle club?

While I’m all for supporting the widest definitions of these fields as possible, there are plenty of people who will complain that any funding at all is being spent on this frivolousness. They’ll be mad that the money isn’t going directly into their pockets. No matter how it’s spent, we need to prove that there is a benefit, even if that benefit is wider and more general in relation to the state, rather than specific to a particular individual.

I realize that I haven’t really answered these final questions, and I don’t think that I can. I would, however, like to make the questions even more complicated by asking, “Should any of this Legacy Amendment funding be used to help artists, historians, or cultural heritage peeps make a profit?”

Before a resounding “NO!” is thrown in my face, tell me, what is tax increment financing if not a mechanism that encourages businesses to make money by forestalling the payment of taxes? No one needs to play sports, yet we entertain subsidizing the construction of new stadiums every few years. We need to show that the Legacy Amendment money we use towards the arts, history and cultural heritage is a good investment for the return they bring  to Minnesota’s economy, no matter which specific arts, history or cultural heritage projects are funded.

’nuff said.

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