The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

May 18, 2011

Funding input for arts sought

MANKATO — The Prairie Lakes Regional Arts Council will hold a public hearing next week for anyone interested in providing input about state arts funding.

Also, there is still time to apply for a PLRAC grant, but the situation this year is a little different than last year.

State funding for the arts has been cut by 30 percent on the general fund side and by 20 percent on the relatively new Arts and Cultural Heritage funding. Voters in 2008 approved a plan to dedicate three-eighths of one percent of the state’s collected sales tax to clean water, land, trails and the arts. It is called the Clean Water Land and Legacy Amendment and is in place for 25 years.

Brenda Byron, PLRAC’s executive director, said they’ve been trying to communicate with groups to let them know that grant awards might be lower this year.

She said last year there were more than 50 groups that got at least $7,000. This year those amounts might be closer to $4,500.

Byron said that because the word about Arts and Cultural Heritage funding availability has spread, more groups have come seeking money.

“There are a lot more groups lined up to get money out of that bucket,” she said.

And not just from PLRAC. That group’s 2012 fiscal year funding is roughly $450,000 (down from $559,120 in 2011), but there is more than $40 million in Arts and Cultural Heritage funding statewide. Many well-intended lawmakers have sought funds for local projects from that pot. Such as one who sought $2.2 million for bandstands at county fair sites. Or a local lawmaker who sought funding for the new children’s museum in Mankato.

More requests, of course, mean a little less for everyone.

“We’re getting more requests,” Byron said, “and they’re asking for bigger grants.”

Plus, with education funding getting cut, some school districts have sought creative ways to fund programs that enhance their curriculum, such as applying for a PLRAC grant to fund the appearance of a speaker that might normally have been paid for with school funds.

“It’s been great to have the new money,” Byron said. “It was a great idea, it lasted for two years. Now, are we still going to be able to do it?”

Fueling the fire as well is a recent backlash against public funding for the arts.

National Public Radio fended off for the time being an effort to strip its funding. And state Republican lawmakers recently objected to the Hennepin County Library’s payment of $45,000 to bring in a well-known author.

But Byron said such criticisms wouldn’t have been legitimate if the funding was contingent upon matching funds, as the PLRAC grants are.

“Anytime you’re sponsoring some event, the cost of it could have been reduced if you had more partners,” she said. “We understand the importance of public funding matching local funding.”

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