General 1-24-2005

Tales of a First Time Arts Advocate, plus Q and A

Read this for a how-to on advocating for art and artists in Minnesota. Rachel Joyce reports from the field, and Sheila Smith answers your questions. Join them on February 22, Arts Advocacy Day at the State Capitol.

from whence

As the barista at my morning coffee shop, my neighbor’s dog, and my co-workers with adjoining cubes would enthusiastically testify, I detest mornings. And I am wont to share my cranky disposition with all man or beast that cross my path before a thermos of light roast and 11 am. Add to that my attitude problems with authority figures and my feelings of powerlessness at the hands of government and it is easy to see why an 8:00 am call for arts advocates at the capitol for Advocacy Day was a hard sell for me. But my passionate belief in the arts as a catalyst for social change and crucial component of individual and cultural transformation trumped my disdain of sunrises and a few years ago I joined with a thousand or so other arts enthusiasts and became an arts advocate for MCA’s Advocacy Day. The experience was so exhilarating that I am prepared to forego the snooze button for all Advocacy Days to come.

After traveling by chartered bus with a group of inspired co-workers to the capitol, I was greeted at the entrance with beaming smiles, complete information packets, and bottomless coffee by MCA volunteers. When I entered I the advocacy gathering room I was stunned. Hundreds upon hundreds of arts-workers and supporters were inside preparing for the day’s activities. Until recently, I have been a freelancer, accustomed to working alone. I’d rarely caught a glimpse of what I often considered the mythical “arts community.” I considered arts activists to be much like Snuffleupagus, often sighted but somehow never around where I was. But in that room I was thrilled to see I was indeed part of a large, motivated group of individuals from every part of the state who are compelled to work for government support of the arts.

The packet of information gave me everything I needed to navigate the day. I was assigned to a team of advocates who would travel together to our appointments with individual legislators. The team leaders held up large signs in the meeting hall so they were easy to spot. I found my team leader and read background information about the legislators I was scheduled to meet and tips for the meetings while waiting for the other group members and basking in the energy of the room. Advocacy teams are made up of people who live in a leglisator’s district (voters!), people from an organization that has toured to a legislature’s district, or artists who have done residencies in that district.

Once our group was assembled we started making our way through the capitol to the representatives’ offices. Our leader was an experienced advocate, trained in conveying the message of arts advocacy to the legislators. As we traveled through the capitol (our numbers were impressive and dominated the halls) many employees greeted and encouraged us. Although this was my first time, many capitol regulars witness this display every year and welcome our involvement.

The meetings with representatives took place in their office or, if the legislator was in a scheduled committee meeting, in the hallway outside the meeting room. Each of the six legislators our group met with was enthusiastic to meet us and hear what brought us to the capitol that day regardless of their voting record in the arts. Each group has a few minutes to greet the representative, clearly state the mission of the group’s visit, which is to prevent cuts in state funding to the arts, and share any personal connections with the arts in the representatives district. Several of the reps I met with told us about what arts they enjoyed, plays and concerts they had seen that year, or about artists visiting their children’s school. I was surprised to find how personally reps had decorated their office spaces. The various mini-shines to sports teams, family photos, artwork and taxidermy made the atmosphere much more relaxed. Maybe not so much the taxidermy. Although not each legislator supported the current spending allotment for the arts, no one argued the point with us or quizzed us for facts and figures.

When we wrapped up our individual meeting in the afternoon, our group met up with other random arts advocates, easily recognizable in their arts advocates pins and heads raised high, for lunch. I was so energized hearing about arts initiatives throughout the state and could not wait to report back to my friends and co-workers on the bus back to south Minneapolis. And none of my apprehensions about a coffee-less, contentious day with callous politicians were warranted, Instead, I had an inspiring day fueled by the energy of hundreds of positive, dedicated arts advocates filled with thoughtful encounters with similarly positive and dedicated elected officials. So if you are considering being a first-time participant I urge you to cast off all doubt and sign up today to represent the arts for your area.

What were some of the questions I started out with? There were many—here are a few, with more added by Sheila Smith of MCA, complete with answers to them. Armed with this information, you can make a difference in your state. Click on the link below to reach MCA headquarters and sign up! You won’t regret it.

Q: What is Arts Advocacy Day?

A: Arts Advocacy Day is when arts advocates come to the Minnesota State Capitol in St.Paul to visit their legislators. We work in teams, organized by MCA, and ask legislators to support the arts.

At Arts Advocacy Day, representatives of all parts of Minnesota’s extraordinary arts community come together for one day to:
1. Talk about the arts
2. Make new friends
3. Educate our legislators about the importance of the arts to Minnesota

Each year, there are representatives from small rural choirs and suburban community theaters, presenters and big organizations, museums and art centers of all sizes, painters, tenors, dancers, cellists, french horn players, arts administrators and YOU joining together for this big day.

Past participants have enthusiastically reported two things about Advocacy Day:

First, they feel empowered by gathering together with like-minded people. In 2003, one thousand arts advocates attended Arts Advocacy Day!

Second, they say that Arts Advocacy Day is the best arts networking event of the year.

This is the only time that arts lovers of all kinds gather together in one place. Through this big day, we show what a strong, vital arts community we have in Minnesota. Participation in events like Arts Advocacy Day has led to significant increases in state arts funding, including 1997’s $12 million Arts Initiative, for which the unified voice of the arts community was critical to our success.

On Arts Advocacy Day, we are out in full force to say “Please support state arts funding!”

Q: What is the schedule on Arts Advocacy Day?

A: The Advocacy Day Schedule is as follows:


8:00 to 8:30 am, Advocacy Class for New Attendees, History Center Auditorium

8:00 to 8:30 am, Registration & Coffee (if not attending the class.) History Center Auditorium

8:30 SHARP – 9:15 am, Advocacy Seminar & Join Your Tram, History Center Auditorium

We strongly urge you to attend this seminar for an up-to-the-minute view of the 2003 legislative session. You need to attend this session in order to join up with your team at the History Center!

9:15-10:00 am, Walk/Ride to the State Capitol

10:00 to 1:00 pm, Legislator Appointments, Home Base at the State Capitol

After 1:00 pm, Possible Arts Performance At the State Capitol

Q: What are our goals for Arts Advocacy Day 2005?

A: 1.We’re here to ask legislators personally to restore arts funding.
2.We’re here to educate legislators about arts activities in their district.
3.We’re here to give a face to the arts in each legislator’s district.

Q: How do MCA, the Arts Community and the Legislature fit together?

A: At MCA, everyone gets involved and works together:

Forming the agenda
Funding MCA
Gathering Information
Serving on the board
Volunteering time
Providing feedback

MCA connects arts folks to their legislators, and watches action at the Capitol so we can tell our members what’s happening, who to call, and what the issues are. We also talk directly with legislators as bills move through the Legislature. Arts Advocates from all over the state talk to their legislators about the arts and why they should vote with us.

Legislators vote on arts issues knowing that their constituents believe the arts are important.

Q: How does the legislature work?

A: There are several steps:

A. The Legislators and the Governor work hard to make friends in their districts, raise money for their campaigns, and get elected. It’s important that arts folks get involved in the campaigns of both parties so even more legislators will be our friends. The Legislature has a Senate (67 members) and a House of Representatives (134 members). You live in the district of one Senator and one Representative.

B. There are a lot of issues to be discussed and voted on each year, so the House and Senate split up into committees, just like most non-profit boards do, to get most of their work done. The Chairs of the committees have the most power, so MCA works to educate the Chairs about the arts.

C. During the legislative session, the state’s budget is split into pieces and sent to the committees for discussion and votes, including the arts budget. We pay most attention to the committee that gets the arts. (The budget making process takes place in odd numbered years; 2003, 2005, 2007, etc.).

D. In both the House and Senate, once committees decide how much money they will spend, they send their piece to the “floor” so that the whole Legislature can vote on it. This is another good time to call or write.

E. The Senate and House then have to agree with each other in a conference committee how the final bill will look. MCA tries to help them to agree on a high amount for the arts.

F. When the Legislature is done, the budget goes to the Governor to sign. MCA works to educate the Governor about the arts so he won’t veto the budget. When the budget is signed, we are finished. The money goes to the Minnesota State Arts Board and eleven Regional Arts Councils, who together make grants all over the state for the arts.

Q: What happened in the last few years for the arts?

A: In 1997, responding to the importance of the arts and culture to Minnesota’s quality of life, economy, and education system, Governor Carlson proposed an increase of arts funding statewide of $12 million over two years (the state budgets on a two-year cycle). MCA organized a huge grassroots effort to pass the increase by coordinating the efforts of our many friends and constituent organizations. We also benefited from the help of many legislators, including Sen. Richard Cohen.

People from every part of Minnesota and every type of arts organization played a part in getting the Initiative passed. New funds went for arts activities in every Minnesota county through grants from the MN State Arts Board (MSAB) and Regional Arts Councils (RACs).

In 1999, newly elected Governor Ventura recommended stable funding for the arts, retaining the increase we had achieved in 1997. However, in the newly Republican controlled House, Rep. Phil Krinkie recommended cutting the arts budget by 50%. Rep. Jim Rhodes, a member of the House committee, wanted to offer an amendment to restore full funding to the arts. But to be successful, he needed a majority vote of 6 out of 10 committee members.

MCA went into high gear to activate our statewide arts advocate network. Legislators reported that your calls and letters saved the day. The huge grassroots outpouring showed a level of public support for the arts that could not be denied. On April 16, the House Committee members voted unanimously to restore the $13 million in arts funding. We should not forget that the Senate’s bill also came out with level funding for the arts, with the help of our other hero, Sen. Dick Cohen.

In 2000, various arts groups have approached the Legislature in the hopes of obtaining bonding funds to build facilities that help them serve their mission and the public. (Bonding money is borrowed by the state to build buildings and is completely different than the money that goes to the community via the MSAB and RACs). Some are successful but most are not, mostly because the Legislature is a very complicated environment, rules are stringent, and the effort can be overwhelming. MCA does not lobby for bonding requests, although we may provide advice. In 2000, of the dozen or so arts requests, only Lanesboro and the Guthrie were awarded funds. The Governor vetoed both, but his vetoes were over-ridden by an overwhelming bi-partisan majority in both houses. The veto override was a ringing endorsement for the arts across the state, and it was the first time we had a recorded vote on the arts for all legislators.

In 2001, we experienced deja-vu as Rep. Krinkie again proposed cutting the arts, this time by 40%. After many heartstopping votes, we reached the conference committee with a $5 million cut from the House. Fortunately, Sen. Richard Cohen’s committee recommended a $1.5 million increase in arts funding, responding to the increasing need for arts support throughout the state. In the conference committee, which dragged out through a special session into June, a compromise was finally reached to leave the arts at stable funding. Again, we came very close to real cuts in the arts appropriation, despite another historic budget surplus.

In 2002, the state suddenly went into deficit. Rather than focus on bonding, legislators were forced to look at spending cuts. (They usually only deal with budgeting in odd-numbered years). The Governor proposed a 10% cut to the arts, but after a long struggle we managed to keep the cuts to just 4%.

Meanwhile, a bonding bill was passed by the legislature that included money for many arts projects, (again, MCA does not lobby on bonding projects). Funded were: the Children’s Theater in Mpls., the Bloomington Arts Center, the Rochester Arts Center, the Guthrie Theatre, and Trollwood in Fargo-Moorhead. Unfortunately, all projects were vetoed by Governor Ventura.

In 2003, the state’s deficit worsens – we have one of the worst per-capita deficits in the nation. Newly elected Governor Pawlenty proposes a 22% cut in arts funding at the start of session, increasing it to a 40% cut when the budget situation worsens a few months later. Rep. Bob Gunther in the House manages to find an additional $1 million for the arts, and Sen. Cohen, now Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, does what he can to find more money also, but he is unsuccessful. In the end the arts are cut by 32%. The political upheaval, in addition to the threats to the arts, spark an astonishing outpouring of activism from the arts community. A thousand people come to Arts Advocacy Day in February, overflowing the capacity of the History Center. We hold coffee parties across the state, run a phone bank out of the office that reaches over 5,000 arts activists, and run a petition on the web that gathers 2,000 signatures in just two weeks, among other efforts. Despite our losses at the legislature, the strength and passion of the arts community is undaunted.

The legislature re-considers the bonding projects vetoed by Gov. Ventura, passing the Children’s Theater at $5 million, Guthrie Theatre at $25 million, and Trollwood Art Center in Moorhead at $5.5 million. New Governor Pawlenty signs the re-passed bonding bill.

In 2004, during the legislative session, arts friends at the Capitol authored a bill that would have dedicated a small percentage (3/8 of one percent) of state sales tax revenue to hunting and fishing conservation, parks and environmental items, and arts and culture. The dedication would have been done via a constitutional amendment that would have had to be passed by voters in November. If passed by the voters, the bill would have increased arts funding and locked it in for the next 25 years. Unfortunately, due to wholly unrelated political issues at the Capitol, the legislature adjourned on May 16 without passing the bill.

The arts and culture funding portion of the bill originated as an amendment authored by Sen. Richard Cohen. The Senate author of the larger bill, Sen. Dallas Sams, chose to include the arts and culture items in his bill which originally only included the outdoors projects, because it appeared that the bill could gain more supporters by the inclusion of the arts. Arts advocates should thank Sen. Cohen and Sen. Sams for their hard work on this bill.

Although it failed to pass the legislature, the cultural community’s efforts advanced the bill as far as it went. Through the grassroots efforts of MCA and our sister cultural organizations, and our professional lobbying, we brought it to life, seeking to increase arts funding farther than we ever had before. In the final hours of the session we came within inches of passing this amendment. Although this time the effort failed, we put a much brighter spotlight on the deficiencies in state funding for the arts community in Minnesota.

In only a month and a half, over 2000 people sent letters to their legislators using our brand new DESKTOP LOBBYIST, and over 500 new people joined our arts alert list. Our coalition grows ever stronger.

Q: After Advocacy Day, is there anything else I can do to help?

A: YES! Two simple ways you can help the cause:

1. Send a thank-you letter to your legislators when you get home asking them to support the arts. Get your friends to write a short letter too.

2.Join MCA’s e-mail Arts Alert list, and find out before everyone else what is going on at the Legislature for the arts. Just send an email to and ask to be added to the email arts alert list.

Q: I can’t go to Advocacy Day. Is there anything else I can do to help?

A: YES! Visit MCA’s Desktop Lobbyist at and contact your legislators. And check out the Advocacy Calendar for individuals to see what’s hot!

Q: My organization wants to be involved. What can we do?

A: First, recruit people from your organization to attend Arts Advocacy Day. They can register online at Then, visit the MCA website to check out the rules for organizational advocacy, and see how your organization can get involved with what’s happening right now!

Q: What are the biggest arts issues this year?

A: 1. As part of state deficit reduction efforts in the last appropriation year, 32% of funding to the arts was cut. We want it restored in the next budget session!

In 2003 the state experienced a huge deficit. The Governor proposed a 40% cut to arts funding, which we managed to reduce to a 32% cut. That was still too much! At Arts Advocacy Day, we’ll ask legislators to restore funding to the arts as soon as possible.

It’s important to know that state arts money, through the grants of the Minnesota State Arts Board (MSAB) and Regional Arts Councils (RACs), reach every Minnesota county and every arts genre, so every legislator’s district has been affected by these cuts.

2. Various Arts Organizations Seek Bonding Dollars for Buildings:

Because the legislature didn’t get it done last year when they were supposed to, this year the state will also consider a bonding bill. In the bonding bill, the state borrows money for construction or renovation of government buildings and is completely separate from the money the state uses to fund its ordinary operations, such as arts funding via the MSAB and RACs. Decisions about how much and what to spend in the bonding bill are completely different from decisions made in how to deal with the state’s operating budget.

MCA supports a state role in building capital infrastructure for the non-profit arts, although we do not advocate for specific projects. IF YOU ARE ASKED DURING YOUR LEGISLATIVE MEETINGS IF YOU SUPPORT ONE PROJECT OR ANOTHER, the best thing to do would be to say “we support all of the arts building projects, but we’re here to talk about the arts appropriation today.” The focus of Arts Advocacy Day is not arts bonding projects. We are here to protect the arts appropriation (see previous section).

Q: Why do we want to talk to all legislators?

A: Every legislator is responsible, in part, for the availability of these arts resources because they all vote to approve the final appropriations bills.
We need every legislator to have personal knowledge and experience in how arts funding brings cultural resources to their own town, how important the arts are to their friends and neighbors … and to YOU.

Q: Who is MCA?

A: MCA is people, including:

  • MCA’s staff and board: Your voice at the Capitol, we organize and educate the arts community to affect the outcome of legislative decisions on arts funding, tax policies that affect philanthropy, and other issues important to the non-profit arts.
    Individual Artists and Arts Advocates, including audiences in every corner of Minnesota.
    Small, medium, rural, suburban and metro arts organizations of all genres and their staff, boards, and audiences (there are 1600 non-profit arts organizations in the state).
    Large arts organizations of all genres and their staff, boards and audiences (there are about 120 arts organizations with annual budgets over $100,000).
    The Regional Arts Councils staff and boards: eleven independent, state funded grant making organizations supporting small and rural arts organizations and schools all across the state.
    State Arts Board and staff: the state government’s arts funding agency.

    Q: What issues does MCA work on?


    State Arts Funding.
    To ensure access to the arts for all Minnesotans by working to protect, and if possible increase, state appropriations to the arts in Minnesota. State funding reaches into every Minnesota county via the grants and services of the Minnesota State Arts Board and Regional Arts Councils.

    Enlightened Tax Policies.
    Recognizing and encouraging the public’s engagement with and support of nonprofits by working to promote and maintain tax policies beneficial to charitable giving, arts philanthropy and nonprofit arts organizations.
    Arts Education. To support the inclusion of arts as a basic requirement in Minnesota schools by supporting the work of our sister organization, the Minnesota Alliance for Arts in Education.
    Cultural Bonding Requests. To support a state role in providing resources to create cultural infrastructure in Minnesota. (We do not work for individual projects).
    National Endowment for the Arts. To support federal funding of the arts and enlightened national tax policies for charities.

    Q: Where does state arts money go?

    A: State arts funding goes to the Regional Arts Councils (RACs) and Minnesota State Arts Board (MSAB). Between the Arts Board and Regional Arts Councils, state money reaches every single Minnesota county in grants and services, so all legislative districts benefit from these grants:

    The Minnesota State Arts Board gives grants to medium and large arts organizations, individual artists and schools, series presenters, folk arts and festivals across the state; it provides newsletters, artist and space directories, workshops and technical assistance to all.

    The Regional Arts Councils give grants to small and medium arts organizations (generally rural), schools, libraries, cities, service organizations, community groups, individual artists, and student artists, depending upon the need of their own region. They also provide newsletters, artist and space directories, workshops and technical assistance to all.

    Q:What are the Regional Arts Councils?

    A: The state is divided into eleven Regional Arts Councils (RACs) which each support a different geographic area of Minnesota. Minnesota’s RACs are unique in the nation as a model for decentralized decision-making for arts grants, programs and services. The RAC system was established in 1977 by the Minnesota Legislature in order to serve the needs of arts organizations and artists throughout the state on a grassroots level. RACs are funded primarily by the State of Minnesota, supplemented by grants from the private sector. (Contact the Forum of Regional Arts Councils through Mark Turner at (218) 894-5485 or

    Q:What is the Minnesota State Arts Board?

    A: The Minnesota State Arts Board (MSAB) is funded primarily by the State of Minnesota, supplemented by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the private sector. The MSAB is governed by eleven private citizens appointed by the Governor from all over the state to serve four year terms. As a state agency, the board sponsors a wide variety of grant programs, services and resource publications for individual artists, arts organizations and schools throughout the state. (Contact the MSAB at (651) 215-1600 or

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