The Arts: Quality of Life, Good Investment or Waste of Time?

CollegeArtClass.jpgIn today’s Star Tribune, Minnetonka’s City Manager John Gunyou has an opinion piece titled “The case for the arts in Legacy Admendment“. Gunyou advocates for the arts in the Legacy Amendment.

According to the Minnesota Independent:

If approved the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment will implement a 0.375-percent sales tax increase beginning July 1, 2009. More than $300 million is expected to be generated over the tax’s 25-year lifespan. A third of the monies raised will be deposited in an outdoor heritage fund and will be spent only to protect and restore wetland, prairie and forest habitat. Another third will go to a clean water fund to protect drinking water, groundwater and the state’s many lakes, rivers and streams. Twenty percent of the remaining receipts will go toward arts and heritage preservation, with the remainder directed to parks and trails.

Gunyou agrees with most of the arguments against the constitutional amendment for public funding of the arts. However, he still hopes it passes.

Most of his argument for supporting the amendment are based on an economic analysis. Nationally, non-profit arts and cultural activities generate $166 billion annually and support 5.7 million full-time jobs. As Gunyou points out, these jobs cannot be shipped overseas.

In Minnesota, the arts and culture contribute over $1 billion annually to our economy. The 20,000 individual artists in our state spend about $250 million with local merchants and businesses.

Although I have a personal tendency to “run the numbers” before I make a decision, and in these times of declining revenues and rising taxes such a process seems more important than ever, I understand those who suggest that measuring the arts only in dollars misses the point. Gunyou touches on the bigger picture when he notes the schools’ cutbacks in arts and music programs and that our history is largely passed on through our arts.

For me, it’s about perceiving, analyzing, communicating about, and implementing actions relating to our world. I think that you need people with as many skills as possible, including math, writing, drawing, and pattern recognition, to be truly effective.

We make public investments in roads, buildings, schools, and businesses, hoping to “prime the pump” for future benefits. Are the arts and culture any different?

27 thoughts on “The Arts: Quality of Life, Good Investment or Waste of Time?”

  1. The MN Independent reports, “More than $300 million is expected to be generated over the tax’s 25-year lifespan.”

    Something seems a bit odd here. As best I can determine from legislative websites, our current 6.75% sales tax generates approximately $5 billion per year, which comes to roughly $750 million per year for each 1%. That suggests that an additional 0.375% tax should add approximately $280 million — or, rounding off (and/or allowing for growth and inflation), $300 million — per *year*, not over the 25-year lifespan.

  2. My only issue is, who will determine what art is?

    Should we support museums and national treasures that speak to our heritage? Yes, but arts?? Not sure about that.

    Art should stand on its own and generate enough support to be accepted as such. One mans art is another men’s nonsense.

  3. I know some will cringe if I suggest that art may have measurable utilitarian value, but to augment Ross’s point, there may be an additional economic argument for supporting the arts: Potentially lower health-care costs.

    From the New Scientist:

    THE power of art to heal emotional wounds is well known, but could contemplating a beautiful painting have the same effect on physical pain?

    To investigate, Marina de Tommaso and a team from the University of Bari in Italy asked 12 men and women. . . to contemplate either the beautiful paintings, or the ugly painting, or a blank panel while the team zapped a short laser pulse at their hand, creating a pricking sensation.

    The subjects rated the pain as being a third less intense while they were viewing the beautiful paintings, compared with contemplating the ugly paintings or the blank panel. Electrodes measuring the brain’s electrical activity suggested a reduced response to the pain when the subject looked at beautiful paintings (Consciousness and Cognition, DOI: 10.1016/j.concog.2008.07.002).

    Lower pain=faster healing=reduced duration of medical treatment=lower costs…? Maybe I’m straining a bit, but there’s something here!

  4. Tracy, that’s similar to an Oxford University study in which Catholics, shown a painting of the Virgin Mary, were able to block out pain. A secular painting was also shown, but Catholics reported experiencing less pain when shown the religious painting.

    I think Gunyou makes good points about the economic value of the arts. I just wish there were a way to do this without levying a regressive tax. Personally, I think there should be more focus on arts education and outreach efforts to bring in new audiences for the arts. We’re lucky to have good art, music, and theater programs in the schools, as well as community arts organizations like the Northfield Arts Guild.

  5. My mother told me a story about Winston Churchill (she was around age 2 when she met him, so don’t take the quote as from her personal memory). When the Nazis were bombing London, Churchill was asked if they should close the opera. Churchill responded, “No, it’s the reason why we’re fighting this war.”

    While Peter is right, that opinions vary about what is art, the new tax will generate plenty of dollars to help fund a wide variety of art.

    What I wrestle with is turning this into a tax. I interpret Churchill’s statement as protecting the freedom to express oneself through art, not to take tax money to subsidize art. I’d rather art be funded directly by those who enjoy it, not by the general population, without a compelling reason to the contrary.

    It is up to the government to ensure that our environment is clean, so I don’t mind if tax dollars are spent furthering that goal. I’d like to know whether a state project that has become obsolete or that is wasteful can be abandoned, and that funding converted to doing the proposed environmental work. Either way, I support this amendment because of how important a clean environment is, but I’d rather have it cleaned with existing tax revenue.

  6. This discussion is not about the power of art..it is about if government should fund art? Who decides who and how much each artist gets?
    Will that be the state house or the senate? Will it be the next Van Gogh or the guy that put a cross in a bowl of urine?

    If this tax is meant to protect the environment, create more wetlands or turn more lands in to state parks I propably vote for it.

    The way its stand now I won’t, what has the above to do with arts?

  7. 10 Reasons Why You Should Vote No PDF Print E-mail

    1. It’s $11 billion out of Minnesotan’s pockets. The almost half percent sales tax increase will generate $11 billion over 25 years, paid for by you, the taxpayer, and given into the hands of government.

    2. It’s a Constitutional Amendment. If passed, the question on the ballot will be an amendment to the state Constitution, which will never go away. The Constitution is a document formed for the purposes of giving rights to the people and limiting the rights of government. A mandated tax increase and a mandated way to spend that money is an abuse of the state Constitution.

    3. It mandates where $300 million each year will be spent. If passed, $300 million each year will be dedicated solely for the purposes of the arts and outdoors. Although these things are important, the role of the state legislature is to decide where taxpayer dollars are spent each 2-year budget cycle. We elect representatives to the legislature to prioritize spending. This amendment would allow $300 million of taxpayer money to bypass the legislative process and force them to spend it on the arts and outdoors, even if that year there were higher-priority needs for other things, like roads and education.

    4. There’s no lack of current funds. Although few know it, millions of taxpayer dollars already go to fund environmental projects. The Department of Natural Resources has a 2-year budget of $1.5 billion. A portion of the state lottery proceeds goes to the Environmental and Natural Resources Trust Fund. The market value of this fund is currently at $415 million. Clearly, there is no lack of funding for environmental projects.

    5. We can’t follow the money. If this tax increase passes, hundreds of non-profit organizations will lobby to get their hands on these government grants. As opposed to government departments, non-profits do not have to report where and how they spend their money. Once these non-profits receive government grants from the dedicated funding, taxpayers will never see where their money is spent.

    6. It creates a scary precedent. This will be a precedent-setting amendment if it passes. Once our Constitution begins to dedicate money to specific spending projects, there will be no end in sight of coalitions and special interests enticed to seek constitutionally dedicated funding for their own pet projects. Just in September, Speaker Anderson-Kelliher (D-Minneapolis) mentioned she can now start planning a constitutionally dedicated gas tax. If this $11 billion ballot question passes, we can guarantee we’ll see many more and many higher tax increases on future ballots.

    7. The first version of the bill was better. The tax increase on the ballot didn’t start out as a tax increase at all. Initially the idea was a bill to dedicate a portion of the existing sales tax to environmental conservation programs only. But that plan proved unpopular with liberal legislators who didn’t want to divert current sales tax revenue to rural environmental programs. So instead they are asking voters to increase the state’s sales tax by an additional almost half a percent and direct billions of those dollars to arts and cultural heritage.

    8. Look who’s supporting this tax increase. Just looking at the 200+ groups supporting this tax increase shows that this is nothing more than a slush fund for special interest groups. Over half of the groups are arts and theater organizations. The only reason they are supporting this and are willing to give large donations to the vote yes campaign is because they know they will receive free taxpayer dollars if it passes. Don’t let them tell you this is for Minnesota’s outdoor heritage alone; billions of dollars will go to art and theater organizations.

    9. The government is not a charity. We’re all supporters of the outdoors and we all love beautiful Minnesota. But that doesn’t mean the government should mandate a tax on Minnesotans so that non-profit organizations can get funding. Thousands of non-profits exist strictly off of charitable donations from people who support their causes. There’s no reason that these organizations should be any different. For infrastructure and environmental projects that benefit all of Minnesota, there’s plenty of money available through the DNR and the lottery.

    10. We already pay enough taxes. Minnesota is home to one of the highest sales tax rates (6.5%) in the country, plus we have a high income tax rate too. If the ballot question passes, the sales tax will increase to 6.875%. Next add county and city sales taxes already implemented, and in Hennepin County alone, we’re looking at almost an 8% sales tax.

  8. Peter, just a few points to consider.

    I think that not all the money that was to go to the environment from the lottery actually got there.

    http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/homegarden/
    19603774.html?location_refer=Bios

    Non-profits do and should be reporting to the trust funds and other big donors if they want to get funded for another time period, so there is some oversight.

    I agree that funding the arts should be supported by the private sector. We have all heard of the Japanese sentiment, if you have two pennies, use one penny to eat and the other one for a dream. There should always be room for art in our lives, whether we are the artists or the appreciators of art.
    Art does promote distribution of the common wealth, just as any other enterprise.

    segue alert!

    There are a lot of items that we are supposed to acknowledge as art because someone put their hand and mind to it. Well, if that is the criteria, and I have no problem with that, then everything is art. And if everything is art, then any item can and will promote the spreading around of wealth.

    Having said that, I would just like to rename the whole arts, crafts, fine arts and decorative arts area and simply call them visual expressions or visual works. That would take the pressure off everyone who wants to work at their own level/s, and takes away the divisiveness and the artificially created market strife with great monetary expectations for mere dribbled and smeared paint applications by outoftheirheadsondrugs personalities, and the like.

  9. I think it is appropriate for the state government to use funds to clean up and safeguard the environment, and I think is very important that the government support the arts–(even the ones that offend us).

    I am absolutely against a constitutional amendment to wrest the funding of these state-wide needs out of the hands of our elected representatives. Why in the world do we vote for representatives if it isn’t so that they can make the decisons and choices–sometimes unpopular and difficult–to keep our state on the financial straight and narrow.

    VOTE NO. We should not be amending our state constitution for this purpose. We already have a system in place to fund requests from the arts and for the environment. VOTE NO and save our republic, so that we can plan for future funding.

    We need to keep the decisions for budget in the legislature, rather than carving out special-interests. Are the arts more important than health-care for children? VOTE NO–do not amend our constitution–lobby your state representative to properly fund the environment and the arts–don’t force this through an amendment.

    Once we are stuck with “entitlements” like this amendment, we will just be a cold (really cold) Washington DC. VOTE NO

  10. John Tuma of MEP had a letter in support of the constitutional amendment in recent NNews. I am prepared to vote YES.

    After hearing speakers for and against, about 50 Farmers Union county presidents voted not to take a position on Clean Water Legacy at our board meeting in August. Some farmers saw the need but did not trust that state agencies in charge of the money would put it to good use. There is distrust of DNR and MPCA. And of course, the arts add-on was a problem for some.

    Why do we need this? It is my understanding that money intended for the environment has been ending up in general fund and going to other things. With Gov. Pawlenty at the helm, outlook has been very bleak. There is really no other way to assure funding to clean up our waters, etc.

    I hear that “politics & pint” will be taking up this topic on Sunday Oct. 12 with the help of Jan Mitchell. Hope you all turn out.

  11. I can offer this perspective … many people think the League of Women Voters is a bunch of radical “old ladies in tennis shoes”, but I can tell you from my many years of involvement, some of those on the League’s Board, that there is no more thoughtful,cautious and considerate (with reference to the definition : “think carefully about”) organization. Sometimes the deliberate manner in which the League moves can be slightly infuriating to an impatient soul.

    So … when the League of Women Voters supports a constitutional amendment, it is not a position lightly taken. Generally they do NOT support a constitutional amendment of this nature. LWV DOES SUPPORT this amendment, at this time. The reasons for doing so have been very carefully considered.

    Just a few additional comments:
    1. Yes, any state sales tax is regressive; this one is somewhat ameliorated by the fact that two absolute necessities, food and clothing, are NOT taxed by the state of MN.
    2. There have been over 200 amendments to the constitution, many of them generated by citizen movements. A state which does not allow citizen initiative must have a more “living document” if it wishes to have a constitution which truly represents the citizenry it governs.
    3. Monies generated by this amendment will NOT flow directly to programs or non-profits. ALL appropriations to non-profits which are derived from dollars generated by this additional tax MUST be approved by the legislature.

    So what is actually happening, IF this should pass, is that additional dollars will be generated, and those dollars’ use will be approved by your representative in the legislature.

    Vote your conscience, but inform yourself rather than just going on a gut reaction to constitutional amendments. DO VOTE, one way or the other. If you just don’t vote on the amendment, because you are undecided, it counts as a NO if you have voted on the presidential portion of the ballot; that is to insure a constitutional amendment being an intentional and purposeful act by the voter. That gives another layer of protection against unwarranted amendments to the Constitution.

    I love my adopted state of Minnesota; it truly is the Star of the North. Deliberate , and consider its future, before you vote.

  12. Question: How much do our friends in St. Paul currently allot each session for clean air, land, and legacy?

    One advantage of a written-in-(lime?)stone amendment is that it provides a consistent, predictable source of revenue, which helps when it comes to long-term planning. One disadvantage (or another advantage, depending on your political stripe) is that it encourages the legislature to redirect the portion of the budget it used to set aside for the purpose in question to other forms of wasteful (or useful) spending.

  13. Jerold : small correction … people can do both … as the NESNA forum is from 4-5:30 for the actual forum, and then socializing afterwards …. so people can dash over to the Cow and find out about the Constitutional Amendment also.

    What a Political Community we have!

  14. I spent Friday evening listening to the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and Saturday morning walking in Big Woods State Park. The music and the trees all called out to me, “Vote Yes!” I do plan to vote yes, but I don’t expect the amendment to pass, and I do see the problems with it. For me, the main problem is access. We paid $30 for two tickets to the SPCO and $25 for a sticker for our car to get into the park. Not everyone is going to be able to afford that luxury, nor will have the leisure to spend a morning walking in the woods. Not everyone can afford to attend the symphony, nor wants to. If this amendment passes, the first priorities should be (a) addressing environmental issues, such as clean water, that affect the health and well-being of all Minnesotans, and (b) improving access to arts, culture, and recreation for all Minnesotans through education, outreach, and free or reduced admission for at least some events.

  15. Rob, I think your sentiment is great, access to art should be available to everyone. Right now there are significant free offerings at museums, theMinnesota Orchestra has a few reduced price programs, and there is art in the parks and others. Posters of the Mona Lisa are widely available and cheap. A little colorful drawing or painting from the grand kids can do a lot of healing as well.

    It is a real shame to charge for a walk in the woods. We never had to do that in Illinois,Indiana or Wisconsin, orNorth Carolina or Tennessee when I was growing up and the woods were magnificent and very much used.

    This is where people need to stop depending so much on government for every little thing. And while I appreciate Tracy’s sentiments, art heals, and so does music, btw, and so does the blue of the sky and the green of the grass and the face of a friend whom you love, all free, btw, people can organize and take a few days every spring and fall and get out there and clear the trails, creeks, and have some real fun at the same time.

    Equipment and lunches can be donated and then you have a real community project. People love that sort of thing and everyone can contribute with making calls, packing fruit and making sandwiches, distributing drinking water, just be around smiling, and so forth.
    People can organize themselves without govt. funding. A little effort
    goes a long way, and takes less time and effort than trying to get the
    proper funding from Uncle Sam

  16. Rob, I think your sentiment is great, access to art should be available to everyone. Right now there are significant free offerings at museums, theMinnesota Orchestra has a few reduced price programs, and there is art in the parks and others. Posters of the Mona Lisa are widely available and cheap. A little colorful drawing or painting from the grand kids can do a lot of healing as well.

    It is a real shame to charge for a walk in the woods. We never had to do that in Illinois,Indiana or Wisconsin, orNorth Carolina or Tennessee when I was growing up and the woods were magnificent and very much used.

    This is where people need to stop depending so much on government for every little thing. And while I appreciate Tracy’s sentiments, art heals, and so does music, btw, and so does the blue of the sky and the green of the grass and the face of a friend whom you love, all free, btw, people can organize and take a few days every spring and fall and get out there and clear the trails, creeks, and have some real fun at the same time.

    Equipment and lunches can be donated and then you have a real community project. People love that sort of thing and everyone can contribute with making calls, packing fruit and making sandwiches, distributing drinking water, just be around smiling, and so forth.
    People can organize themselves without govt. funding. A little effort
    goes a long way, and takes less time and effort than trying to get the
    proper funding from Uncle Sam.

  17. While trolling for information about funding of the arts, I was amused to come across the following statistic in the synopsis of an economic impact study at the Minnesota State Arts Board (http://www.arts.state.mn.us/):

    “Nearly 15 million Minnesotans are enthusiastic consumers of arts and culture in the state.”

  18. I am opposed to this amendment to provide a DEDICATED SPECIAL tax for the arts and environment. We expect our elected Representatives in the State Legislature to make these decisions WITH input from us, their constituents.

  19. Since this amendment supports both art and wildlife, how about simplifying things by supporting only Wild Life Art, you know duck and pheasant stamp paintings etc.?

    Awhile ago, a friend got the job of managing a large Twin Cities based corporation’s art collection. She said when she started, the collection was made entirely of wildlife art. She called it “Art Ducko”.

    I’m just saying…..

  20. As I believe I said earlier, speakers on both sides of the issue presented the amendment to Minnesota Farmers Union board meeting in August. We decided not to take a position. As I may have said earlier, some farmers do not trust that the commission that will be set up will handle the funds properly. They know MPCA and DNR will be drawn in and they particularly don’t trust those agencies.

    After watching MEP (coalition of envir and outdoor groups) struggle for years to get funding to start cleaning up our rivers and streams (40% are polluted), I am ready to vote YES. Other ways of getting the funds were tried., such as having people pay extra on their sewer bills, with polluting industries paying the larger share. Could not get an agreement.

    Republican administrations have skimped on funding and monies that were there were shifted to other things at will. Nothing ever came of it, so this amendment needs to pass. I am sorry the arts funding was added on, though I believe we need that too.

  21. There is good reason for the word “legacy” to have been added to the title of this amendment.
    This state calls itself “The Star of the North”; I truly think that is an apt name for my adopted home.

    There are some qualities that are intrinsic to the ‘nature’ of a place, and they are not all nature.
    What I love most about MN are the diverse qualities that seem to define it: “MN Nice” and being the birthplace of the International Workers of the World, The rough tough hardworking image of the Iron Range and the politics of positive social action and support, The Voyageurs, the Immigrants, the tough Prairie Farmers, and the exquisite Artists of all varieties.
    These diverse pictures, added to the natural beauty of the Lakes , Prairies and Forests, are the Legacy of this state to me.

    Our Legislature, and Governors … for twenty or more years … have not been able to find the money to adequately support retaining that ‘Legacy’, and especially when it comes to keeping the beautiful waters of this state clean.
    We are “the land of 10,000 Lakes”, many of which are polluted.

    For our own sakes, for the generations to come, for the Legacy of “L’Etoile du Nord” …. VOTE YES … on this constitutional amendment.

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