Welcome to Arts Advocacy Day

The economic impact of the creative arts in Minneapolis astonishes. Estimated at over $4.5 billion in sales, or eight times that of Minneapolis’ sports sector according to the 2015 Creative Vitality Index (CVI), an economic measure used by the city, it has earned our region a lofty place as a national creative mecca.

Behind such stunning statistics toil humans whose creativity and innovation fuel this so-called creative class, dubbed by author Richard Florida. Frequently laboring for the sheer love of their craft, many visual and performing artists, directors, inventors and innovators produce from an inner creative core more likely fueled by passion than personal gain. These makers are marked by an almost holy drive to create – and when their artistry and intent collide, it often yields something extraordinary in its wake.


They came by train, carpool, bus and foot. Side-by-side, comrades-in-arm — the entrepreneurs, administrators, funders, lobbyists, legislators and those essential laborers, the creators of drama, dance, music, comedy, sculpture, prints, painting, photography, poetry, architecture, fiction, film and more — marshaling their collective inventiveness once a year around one common cause: Minnesota Citizens for the Arts Advocacy Day at the Capitol.

From Cook to Rock, Fillmore to Marshall and most counties in between, on this last Tuesday of February, the almost 1,000-strong Minnesotan arts advocates came, packing Minnesota History Center’s 3M Auditorium, overflowing into the hallways, commiserating, chattering, collaborating, networking and schmoozing with colleagues old, new and renewed. They are the Creative Warriors who triumphantly paint a human face on Minnesota’s Creative Class, united in the battle to maintain the eternally tenuous funding for the arts.

The leader of this annual event is Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, MCA, a super-smart 501(c)(4) umbrella lobbying organization that represents with verve, vim and vigor the highest interests of: 695 performing arts, 262 multipurpose arts, 232 history and historical preservation, 156 visual arts and architecture, 49 media and communications, 30 literary, 10 humanities and 167 miscellaneous arts organizations that represent Minnesota’s 1,601 recognized creative entities.

The day typically begins with a rally and orientation training for all registrants, who have been pre-grouped into teams according to one of the state’s 11 formally designated arts regions and multiple legislative districts. Some register with a home address, some by the address of their institution.

This year, the team representing South Minneapolis and Uptown was labeled CC, championed by longtime MCA Board Member Carla McGrath, executive director of Highpoint Center for Printmaking, a foot soldier in this annual battle to maintain the gains achieved by such grassroots activism. CC team boasted almost 60 individuals from various organizations. Philip Brunelle, “headmaster” of VocalEssence; Art Space’s communications director, Tio Aiken; textile artist, Marjorie Fedyszyn; new Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association Executive Director Dameum Strange; and Kate Smith of the Minneapolis Institute of Art were part of this group who live and/or work in the legislative districts 61A and 61B of Arts Region 11.

Chanting this year’s mantra, “Please protect the 47% of the Arts Legacy Fund and maintain the General Fund,” crowds gathered by section to meet in carefully orchestrated sessions with their representatives and senators.

CC had fruitful sessions with Reps. Paul Thissen and Frank Hornstein and Sen. Scott Dibble, all Democrats who fervently support the arts. The meetings were mostly lighthearted, mutual admiration fests with participants sharing poignant stories of what the arts contribute to the overall quality of life. Visual artist, Marcia Hoffmans, earnestly explained the enrichment her work provides children, while a member of One Voice Mixed Chorus emotionally described how participation in the chorus afforded much needed support after a vicious physical attack. Such personal accounts provide qualitative examples that greatly augment the metrics.

The interaction between the lawmakers and their citizens is highly reciprocal. Rep. Thissen shared that his wife had been a longtime board member of Sewell Ballet. Rep. Hornstein serenaded the group with a hilarious Bob Dylan imitation, proving he, too, is a member of the creative club. Not to be outdone, Sen. Dibble had prepared homemade chocolate chip pies, sincerely counseling all to “continue to find joy,” while acknowledging that “our democracy is definitely under attack and we need to keep resisting.”


The numbers have legs

The annual Minnesota economic impact generated by artists and creative workers and non-profit arts and culture organizations is $2 billion. These figures are separate from the sales figures we quote at the top of the column. They provide powerful incentive for continued government support for the arts.

Equally vital to our senators and representatives is the $222 million in revenue generated for the state through taxes and artist spending. Such numbers should guarantee continued bipartisan support for both state general fund and Legacy Amendment fund support. In plain terms the state revenues outpace state spending on the arts. In business parlance: Minnesota government receives a healthy return on invest, ROI, for every penny it invests in creative economy.

The reach and equality of the distribution of these funds is also important for legislators from both houses on both sides of the aisle. Arts funding in Minnesota is brilliantly managed by the tag team of the regional arts councils and the Minnesota Arts Board, ensuring that Arts Funding reaches each of the state’s 87 counties through 11 regional districts. While there is an obvious concentration in the Metro Area, every nook and cranny of greater Minnesota is well represented in the arts and culture mix.

These facts and more are the highlight of this year’s event unveiled in the 2017 Creative Minnesota report. The report is updated every two years as part of a long-term endeavor to collect and report data on the creative sector. This year’s report both quantifies and qualifies this assessment. It’s a worthwhile read cover-to-cover to more deeply appreciate the magnitude of this achievement.


Historical context: unlikely bedfellows

Minnesota’s truly robust public-private support for arts and culture is unique in the United States.

The facts, figures and historical context speak directly to the impetus for this column: “Behind such stunning statistics toil humans whose creativity and innovation fuel this creative class.” Laws do not spring into being by themselves. Humans produce the arts and have created the saga of our exceptional funding.

And the history of the infamous Legacy Amendment reveals an unlikely coalition of individuals who saw an equally unlikely public/private opportunity: Artists and anglers.

Sheila Smith, executive director of MCA, recounts the peculiar story of the groundwork for the passage of the Legacy Amendment, formally called the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund in our state’s constitution: “The search for dedicated funding for the arts began in 1991 when Senator Richard Cohen convened a working group to search for a dedicated source of funding for the arts.” It wasn’t until the early 2000s that the hunters and anglers for land conservation proposed the idea of dedicated revenue in a constitutional amendment.

In 2004, the arts were attached to the bill, and finally in 2008, after significant lobbying from MCA, the amendment passed the legislature on the same day the MCA had more than 500 people come to the Capitol for Arts Advocacy Day.

Smith states that legislative-level success came from three important ingredients: a longtime commitment to arts advocacy in Minnesota, which has created a great pool of grassroots activists who jump in when asked; MCA’s brilliant lobbyist, Larry Redmond, who outmaneuvered and out strategized all opponents; and a great legislative champion, Sen. Dick Cohen, who as chair of the Finance Committee worked tirelessly to gain the support of his peers.

What the anglers began, the artists, artisans, administrators, lawmakers and lobbyists continue, as was evidenced by the overwhelming turnout for this year’s event. And as long as there is pigment for paint, bulbs for stage lighting, clay for sculptures and ink for writing, these creative warriors will wage on, earning our region a lofty place as a national creative mecca.