Priorities and leverage: Support for arts office

Reprinted/adapted with permission from the Northeaster newspaper. There are many reasons to support expanding the city of Minneapolis’ commitment to arts, from arts’ intrinsic value, to a desire to catch up to otherwise comparable cities. We urge support for a new department of Arts and Cultural Affairs. Public comment is open now through July 21 online  (see MyNortheaster.com for link). The full text of the ordinance is available at https://lims.minneapolismn.gov/File/2021-00387.

The Northeaster’s ongoing dedication to the arts reflects a reader priority as expressed in last summer’s survey, as well as a natural affinity – our photography and writing can be considered arts. We’ve seen how arts help people communicate within and across cultures, and how arts make learning other school subjects fun and memorable. Aesthetics, visual interest – we’re fortunate to live and work in an area where the gritty edge of old industry meets new interpretations.

In researching our related story, we tried to follow the money, at its peak an additional $5.4 million institutionalized in the city’s general fund and eventually expanding the arts department to about 15 staff (it’s currently five full-time).  There’s a lot to be said for not having to worry about finding new grant funds every year to keep basic functions alive. Grant funds tend to be program-specific and reflect the priorities of funders in ways that miss opportunities to best serve the general public. 

Graph comparisons with other cities spending on arts departments

Over the years, Minneapolis has missed out on millions in potential arts funding for lack of people to work on applications. Cities of comparable size have staffs the size that Minneapolis is seeking (below) and they find and leverage funds. 

An ancient example from Minneapolis was the 1990s Office of Film, Video and Recording attracting and assisting filmmakers. The state also had incentive money. Neighborhoods felt the ripple effect when companies hired residents as extras and local restaurants fed the crews, not to mention the equipment rentals and local editors/producers hired to oversee and process those shoots.  

More nebulous, and understandably so in the current Minneapolis proposal, is how much of those millions would actually be available for use by the cultural corridors the ordinance is meant to support, and if so, how they would be allocated. Remember the declaration by Mayor Jacob Frey in his budget a couple years ago creating the cultural corridors? It has taken this long to finesse how these unique areas will be addressed, and it’s still subject to negotiation. 

The arts, and arts-adjacent businesses are a large part of Northeast’s economy as well as our ethos. It wasn’t so long ago we lamented that Northeast was never poor enough to ask for or receive extra help, nor rich enough to do the things that require “that kind of money.”  

The arts have proven time and again as essential for healing and recovery. We call on city leaders to pull together, establish and fund this helping hand.