Tomorrow hundreds of Minnesotans from across the state will congregate at the state capitol to talk about the importance of the arts.
Minnesota State Capitol
MPR Photo/Steve Mullis
Sheila Smith, director of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, organizes "Arts Advocacy Day." Each year she rallies the troops, and brings her advocates up to speed on the most important points they need to discuss with their representatives.
Knight Arts' Susannah Schouweiler recently checked in with Smith to find out what would be at the top of this year's agenda. It begins with a fine-tuning of the distribution of Legacy Amendment funds:
They're asking lawmakers to distribute a full 50 percent of the arts-specific funds gleaned from the amendment to the Minnesota State Arts Board and Regional Arts Councils (up from 43 percent currently). Applicant demand for those grants has far outpaced revenues available thus far; the state arts board can now only fund about half the eligible incoming requests for grants and services. MCA's director, Sheila Smith, says funneling more of Legacy Amendment monies to the state arts board also ensures that grants drawn from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund will be fairly distributed across all of the state's 87 districts, according to a rigorous, transparent adjudication process. "We are concerned about some bills that would earmark the resources intended for all Minnesotans to benefit only a few," allocating a disproportionate share of the fund to benefit one district at the expense of the others, she says.
Additionally, the group will urge legislators to vote against tax reform proposals that would extend new sales taxes to cover nonprofit organizations' activities (including ticket sales, e.g.). MCA argues that such an expansion effectively "puts a tax on donations," because ticket sales, along with charitable giving and volunteer labor, add up vital part of Minnesota nonprofits' fundraising strategies. What's more, "taking away the sales tax exemption for nonprofit tickets increases costs just when nonprofits are reeling from the effects of the recession," the press release reads.
Advocates will gather early tomorrow morning at the Minnesota History Center for a rally that includes a performance by The New Standards before heading to the capitol. You can read more about tomorrow's agenda here.(0 Comments)
Cori Wegener joined the Army Reserves right after high school to help pay for college. Little did she know just how far her military experience would take her.
MIA curator Corine Wegener has been called the 'Clark Kent of museum work'
Photo courtesy MIA
Wegener, a curator at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, is moving to the Smithsonian at the end of the month. There she will use her mix of military experience and artistic expertise to lead efforts to protect cultural heritage worldwide.
Wegener says she enjoyed her initial experience with the Army Reserves, and so she continued with college ROTC (studying both political science and art history) and eventually entered the Civil Affairs branch of the Army Reserve. She says her military training was great preparation for her work as a museum curator.
"You learn how to plan and execute operations (like exhibitions) and work as part of a team," says Wegener.
While at the MIA Wegener was called into service to work with the Iraq National Museum staff immediately after the looting in 2003.
In 2006, having retired from the military, Wegener formed the US Committee of the Blue Shield, the cultural equivalent of the Red Cross, providing an emergency response to cultural property at risk from armed conflict or natural disasters. Her work has taken her to Haiti after the earthquake and had her consulting with officials in Egypt, all the while maintaining her job as Associate Curator in the department of Architecture, Design, Decorative Arts, Craft, and Sculpture at the MIA.
Now the Smithsonian has created a new position - Preservation Specialist for Cultural Heritage - for Wegener to devote herself more fully to her cultural heritage work.
"What I find most exciting is the opportunity to promote the idea that there is a cultural heritage component to everything we do," says Wegener. "In disaster planning and response people always come first, but cultural heritage is often overlooked until it's too late to save it."
Wegener says she looks forward to working with her colleagues around the world to better coordinate efforts in what is still an emerging field.
ArtPlace, the same organization which funded a major community development project along Twin Cities central lightrail corridor, is now funding four new cultural initiatives in the Twin Cities. Each of these projects is aimed at bringing creative placemaking to urban communities, and incorporating the arts into city planning.
Listen to an interview with ArtPlace's Director Carol Coletta:
Here's how the projects break down:
Who: Native American Community Development Institute
What: Anpetu Was'te Cultural Arts Market
How Much: $435,000
This grant will be used to construct a pedestrian plaza on Franklin Avenue at the LRT station. The market will connect the Ventura Village and Seward neighborhoods while also creating spaces for performances and vendors. The grant includes commissions for four public art pieces for the plaza, which will serve as a gateway to the American Indian Cultural Corridor.
As a result of this grant four artists will be placed in residence in the Minneapolis Planning Division, where they will use their creative artistic talents to tackle the transportation, economic, environmental and social issues facing Minneapolis.
"The arts aren't just for theaters and museums: they're for our streets, our neighborhoods and our daily lives in every corner of our city, " said Mayor R.T. Rybak. "Thanks to the generosity of ArtPlace, visionary arts organizations in Minneapolis that focus on serving low-income communities and communities of color will have the resources they need to engage in the creative place-making that we already see coming to fruition downtown."
Who: Public Art Saint Paul and the City of Saint Paul
What: City Artists In Residence
How Much: $300,000
Building on the past several years' work of Saint Paul's Artist-in-Residence Marcus Young, this grant will bring in two additional artists, involving them in conversations on the shaping and programming of public spaces. This could manifest itself in ways that effect some of the basic systems of the city, from its water and infrastructure to daily social interaction.
Who: Pillsbury House + Theatre
What: Arts on Chicago
How Much: $250,000
The goal of "Arts on Chicago" is to build upon the presence of artists and arts-related businesses already present in the neighborhood to create a stronger, more vibrant community. The grant will fund 20 art projects, while also working to build a sustainable method for continuing these projects in years to come.
"I've loved this neighborhood for the past 17 years; it's an incredibly diverse, mind-expanding, alive, creative place to live and work," says Pillsbury House + Theatre co-director Noel Raymond. "Unfortunately, the true character of the neighborhood is not always reflected in media portrayals or, sometimes, in the physical landscape on Chicago Avenue. Artplace will help us bring awareness and transform the physical space, so that the energy and strengths of these neighborhoods are really recognized."
In announcing the new grants, which total $15 million nationwide, ArtPlace's Director Carol Coletta said: "These projects all exemplify the best in creative placemaking. They demonstrate a deep understanding of how smart investments in art, design, and culture as part of a larger portfolio of revitalization strategies can change the trajectory of communities and increase economic opportunities for people."
On this November's ballot, Minnesotans will be asked if they want marriage written into the state constitution, defined as being between one man and one woman.
But when it comes to artists and arts organizations, the majority appear to be in favor of gay marriage. The Minnesotans United for All Families Coalition is made up of approximately 250 organizations working to overturn the amendment; of them, more than 40 are directly involved in the arts, including among them the Guthrie Theater, Springboard for the Arts, Intermedia Arts, and Pillsbury House Theatre.
In addition, Minnesota Artists for Equality has put together a video message asking artists to use their creative know-how to help overturn the marriage amendment:
So why do so many artists and arts organizations support gay marriage? I put the question to Twin Cities artists and arts administrators on my Facebook page; here are just some of the responses I heard:
Sam Bergman, violist with the Minnesota Orchestra:
Assuming you're defining "artists" broadly here: a) the number of conservative artists can be counted on one hand; b) many of us are either gay ourselves or grew up watching how horribly gay friends were treated by American society; and c) artists are by nature questioners of authority and agents of progressive social change.
Laura Zabel, director of Springboard for the Arts:
For me, this amendment is about what it means to be a Minnesotan. Much like the Legacy amendment, we have a chance to say, "Here's what this place means. This is who we want to be." I believe Minnesota's identity is about beautiful environment, incredible cultural opportunity and a proud tradition of progressive openness and welcoming attitude. Those are the things that make Minnesota a place I want to live. There are also compelling arguments that link GLBT and creative populations as drivers of economic success...but for me it's about identity.
Actor and writer Dean J. Seal:
Artists, by trade, put themselves in other people's shoes, see through other people's eyes, walk a mile in their moccasins. They don't see this issue in terms of philosophy or religion- they see it in the stories of people who love each other.
Photographer Dean Riggott:
Interestingly, I'd estimate 75% of the artists (mostly photographers)I know to be very conservative with strong biblical beliefs and opposed to gay marriage. But often times artists and musicians are very rebellious and anti-establishment by nature and opposed to rules of any kind.
Actor Charlie Bethel:
I am an artist who loves rules, but I also know that rules are made to be broken. As a human being, I know that my highest purpose is to love and be loved by another human being. Marriage fosters this, so I support marriage. For everyone.
Screenwriter Marvin Joel Rubin:
I don't believe artists are a monolith. Artists come from different classes, races, religions, political views etc. Sometimes despite the differences they come together.
Dancer John Munger
I notice that a large majority of the artists I know, including myself, give serious thought on a regular basis to the hard work of empathy. And it's very hard work. Lots of people just don't want to do it. They just want to be "right," so what's wrong with everyone else? But a large number of artists do it all the time. We have to. We're trying to communicate. Any motivational speaker, social theorist, psychologist, counselor, therapist or genuine spiritual guru will tell you that, in order to communicate, you have to listen, and that's how empathy begins.
Minneapolis Institute of Arts staffer Anne-Marie Wagener:
I think that art and freedom of expression go together fairly often and freedom, of choice, is certainly an issue that this amendment tries to deny.
and finally, from poet Paul Dickinson:
Because everyone has the right to be miserable...
Minnesota Citizens for the Arts is also a member of Minnesotans United for all Families. Executive Director Sheila Smith explains the MCA's stance this way:
Minnesota's creative community thrives because of the contributions of all kinds of creative people, including gay people. Passage of this amendment would hang a "not welcome" sign on our borders to a significant portion of the creative community and would cause damage to our image as a great place to be an artist. This amendment could limit our state's ability to recruit the best and the brightest to be a part of our state's future. Economist Richard Florida said in The Creative Class that regions with high concentrations of technology workers, artists, musicians, lesbians and gay men, or "the creative class" fosters an open, dynamic personal and professional environment, which in turn attracts more creative people, businesses, and capital. We believe in the Golden Rule: treat others as you would like to be treated. That's the kind of place we believe Minnesota is, and the kind of place we want it to be in the future.
So what for you is the connection between artists and the marriage amendment?(1 Comments)
Whiteout conditions and heavy snowfall in many parts of Minnesota has taken a toll on what is normally a jam-packed event at the State Capitol.
Today is Arts Advocacy Day, when arts supporters from across the state convene to talk about the importance of the arts with their legislators.
According to Sheila Smith, Director of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, it's also the best attended advocacy day at the Capitol all year... weather permitting.
But this morning many advocates found they couldn't even get out of their driveways, let along make a several hour drive to the Twin Cities to show their support.
That has meant for some swift reorganizing this morning. Laura Zabel, with Springboard for the Arts, tweeted that "We're down quite a few greater MN constituents b/c of weather. But @MNCITIZEN (Sheila Smith) has rocked a reorg of teams!"
In addition, Smith tweeted "of the about 500 ppl signed up for arts advicacy day, almost 1/2 didnt make it bc of weather!"
Smith has encouraged those who can't make the event in person to contact their legislators via e-mail on a number of specific topics.
So a colleague of mine, ok - my BOSS - brought a couple of photos in to work to show me this morning. He knows I enjoy biking the Gateway Trail, and that I cover the arts, so he thought I'd be amused by the visual debate.
On one side of a tunnel, there's this:
On the other side, written atop layers of graffiti that have been white-washed, there's this:
Now, there are often bits of graffiti on the interior walls of tunnels along the Gateway, mostly harmless, and sometimes quite beautiful. For a while my favorite was one that said "Uff-da" just at the point in the ride where I was feeling exactly that sentiment. But inevitably the graffiti is cleaned up each year, leaving a wall patchworked in shades of white and grey.
Well, the images got me thinking, why isn't there any "official" art on the Gateway Trail?
It turns out, art is on the way.
I tuned in to a Gateway State Trail Podcast (yes, they have a Gateway Trail podcast! I couldn't believe it either), and learned that the Gateway Trail Association (They have an association, too!) worked with the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent, and the Mississippi Magnet Creative Arts School to create some original art for the trail.
Under the guidance of artist David Vang, 3rd, 4th and 5th graders came up with images that represent the word "welcome" to them. They then created approximately 300 ceramic tiles featuring those welcoming images.
The tiles are expected to go up at the end of June, affixed to a pergola next to the Arlington parking lot. Eventually the pergola will serve as a welcoming gateway to a community garden.
Gateway Trail Association boardmember Noreen Farrell says it's been a long time coming; she originally started pursuing art for the trail in the late 1980s.
We had seen some information from England about how they had art on their trail. And we thought this was wonderful. We've always wanted to enhance the trail and to make it very neighborhood friendly. We found out most of the people using the trail live within ten miles, and we wanted them to feel some ownership of the trail.
Well, at lease in the case of "Firefly Alley," it looks as though they already feel some ownership.
Rocco Landesman has lots of love for Lowertown.
"If I could put Lowertown in my briefcase and take it around the country, and be able to say 'Aha! See? Look that the arts presence, what a cluster of artists can do to transform a neighborhood, a community, a city.' Lowertown is exhibit A."
Landesman, a former Broadway producer who now chairs the National Endowment for the Arts took a whirlwind tour of St Paul today, meeting with the folks in Lowertown, before heading to SteppingStone Theater for a town hall meeting with some 300 members of the Minnesota arts community.
It's part of Landesman's ongoing national "Art Works" tour, a six month campaign to promote the importance of cultural activity to the economy, to job creation and for future innovation.
Landesman says as a Broadway theater guy he likes "Art Works" as a slogan because it's a triple entendre.
As a noun it covers pieces created by artists.
As a verb it means the way art 'works' on an individual in a profound and personal way.
The third way is about the work of the arts, the jobs and the economic muscle produced by people who work in creative pursuits.
He lauded Minnesotans for passing the Legacy Amendment which provides money to support arts and cultural activities. he says it's the only state in the nation which has "arts baked into its constitution," as he put it.
"Now we only need 49 others."
He says Minnesota has the three things necessary for a successful and beneficial arts community: creative artists, engaged audiences, and supportive corporations and foundations. He says as he's toured around he seen some communities with two of these three, but few with the full set.
Of course Landesman was preaching to the choir, but he did take the opportunity to warn the crowd arts funding should not be taken for granted. He talked about how the inclusion of arts funds in the Recovery Act was used as political weapon by opponents to claim the entire package was frivolous, even though it was just $50 million in a $787 billion budget.
Landesman quoted a member of Congress who said it was ridiculous to spend the $50 million on the arts when it could be spent on "real jobs like road-building."
He says it was then he realized just how tough his job would be.
Landesman says he wants to change that bias against the arts. It's his aim at the NEA to as he put it "be making the case wherever we can, in the public sector, with the Federal agencies, with Congress. also with the private sector, corporations, foundations, individuals, that the arts have a real role in this country's coming out of recession, in neighborhood revitalization, in economic development, in urban renewal, in the real world."
He says this is a very different narrative from simply saying individual arts organizations are in trouble and need help. He says that the arts do face challenges, so a new message has to be found.
Landesman was supported all the way by his host for the day, US Representative Betty McCollum. She sits on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Environment, which has jurisdiction over the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. She stressed how important arts jobs are to the economy, and the knock-on effect the loss of such jobs can have.
During the meeting Landesman took questions about the impact of budget cuts on arts programs in the schools, the lack of coverage of arts issues in mainstream media, and how cultural exchanges might aid international diplomacy.
After the meeting the mood seemed buoyant, with many people pleased that Landesman had come to speak,
"It brings a spotlight onto what's going on here," said Jack Becker, of Forecast Public Arts in St Paul. Becker acknowledges that NEA funds don't make a huge difference to individual artists, but the visit has great symbolic value.
"I see it as a good reason to get people fired up again and back to work!" Becker laughed.
The occasion was of such significance to SteppingStone's Artistic Director Richard Hitchler, that he came back early from a vacation on the Superior Hiking Trail.
"This is usually one of those types of things that would have ended up at a much larger institution, but I think with his message, the chairman's message, that really ties in to what we are doing here at SteppingStone."
Hitchler points out how the company provides jobs, theater classes, and community building.
"I, as the leader of this organization, am responsible to a number of employees to make sure they are paid, they are paid on time, and they are paid a living wage. I am also responsible to make sure that the kids that we serve are served well, and the only way I can do that is to count on the artists to be there and to be working with the youth."
The Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts Rocco Landesman will visit the Twin Cities August 25th as part of his "Art Works" tour.
Landesman is visiting communities around the US to gather information and to promote the "Our Town" initiative, a proposal to use $5 million in up to 35 communities to support planning and design projects, and arts engagement strategies.
The examples cited in Landesman's statement to the Appropriation Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies committee include the integration of public art into civic spaces; a community waterfront festival; affordable housing for low-income artists; rehearsal spaces to serve as research and development space for our performing arts companies; outdoor exhibitions and performances to enliven civic spaces and engage citizens. All of these have been tried in various forms in Minnesota.
The visit is at the invitation of US Representative Betty McCollum who sits on that particular committee. It has jurisdiction over both the NEA and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
A representative from Rep. McCollum's office says the specifics of the visit are still being worked out but should be released in the next few days.
Landesman arrived at the NEA after a career in business, academia and the arts, including several years at the helm of Broadway show producer Jujamcyn. Landesman himself produced both of the "Angels in America" shows and "The Producers" musical.
Many Minnesota organizations receive NEA funding (including, in the spirit of full disclosure, Minnesota Public Radio.)
It's rare to find artists who openly allign their works with a conservative political stance, and so when one shows up, I take notice.
This morning I received in my inbox an email from "RPR News" stating artist Meg Michael of Princeton, New Jersey, is offering professional copies of one of her paintings at a "greatly reduced price" ($290) to "serve as an ideal symbol for the new movement dedicated to a reformed conservative government."
So what might this painting depict? My mind immediately conjured up images of protestors from the colonial days dumping crates of tea into the Boston harbor, or perhaps a large pig about to go under the butcher's knife (as in "we need to slash the pork from this bill"). But alas, nothing so bold. Take a look:
Meg Michael's "Tea Party"
The press release goes on to say that Michael's painting "is intended as an apt common focus for loyal tea party members who wish to emphasize their power of unity and to encourage active party participation."
I'm sorry, but I believe the last work of art that's going to inspire "active party participation" is a still-life.
Posted at 12:32 PM on November 3, 2009
by Marianne Combs
Filed under: Policy
President Obama has named his appointees to his Committee on the Arts and Humanities. The names include actors such as Forest Whitaker, Sarah Jessica Parker, Alfre Woodard, and Edward Norton, as well as the Editor-in-Chief of Vogue magazine, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, philanthropist (and wife of John Kerry) Teresa Heinz, and our own Senator Dick Cohen. Firlst Lady Michelle Obama serves as the committee's honorary chair.
The committee works directly with the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. But with all this talk about health care and the economy, you may not know just exactly what President Obama has planned for the arts (I certainly couldn't point to any projects off the top of my head).
Well I did a quick search and found this from his campaign trail days, when candidate Obama needed to have talking points on every issue out there.
In summary, our President has promised America the following:
- To reinvest in arts education, by expanding public/private partnerships between schools and arts organizations. He also, based on his work in Chicago, promised to create an "artist corps" consisting of of young artists trained to work in low-income schools and their communities. And he promised to be publicly champion the importance of an arts education.
- To support increased funding for the NEA. (Did that - restored NEA funding to its highest level since 1992 when he signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in February)
- To promote cultural diplomacy. By that he means put more money into U.S. embassy programs that send American artists on tour around the world.
- To attract foreign talent. Since 9/11 it's been difficult, if not impossible to get a visa to perform in the United States. President Obama has promised to streamline the visa process so artists and art students can make their way here more easily.
- To provide affordable health care to artists. (Because if you provide affordable health care to everybody, that includes artists. Two birds, one stone.)
- To ensure "tax fairness" for artists. Candidate Obama said he supports legislation that would allow artists to deduct the fair-market value of their work, rather than just the costs of the materials, when they make charitable contributions.
It's a pretty big list, and since Obama has only just named the committee meant to work on the arts, over ten months into his tenure, it will be interesting to see what they can accomplish.
Update 11/09/09: PIA CATTON of Politico offers this nice analysis of what it takes to advise President Obama on the arts. Short answer? Money.