An allowance for the artists

There will be one Amendment on the Minnesota Ballot Nov. 4 that has little to do with Barack Obama or John McCain. The Clean Water, Wildlife, Cultural Heritage and Natural Areas Amendment is an opportunity for voters to claim funding for the preservation of our Northwoods and ensure our water remains safe and becomes cleaner. By increasing our taxable sales by three-eights of one percent from 2009 through 2034, hundreds of millions of dollars will be produced to support these causes as well as the arts. To be precise, nearly 20 percent, or $59 million will be spent toward arts education in schools, and funding for the arts in greater Minnesota as well as Minneapolis and St. Paul. My friends have called my hometown the place where the arts come to die. But it wasnâÄôt always that way. I began playing violin when it was cool in third grade. At age 11, I dyed my ordinarily blonde hair black as a Siamese dancer in âÄúThe King and I.âÄù In junior high, clay pots were fired in kilns and glazed in hazy colors in Mr. NeronâÄôs art class. IâÄôve danced since the age of 3. The city of St. Cloud opened its pocketbook to restore the Paramont Theater; its current version is gilded in gold and rivals any of the historic theaters in the Minneapolis district. The problem is that itâÄôs so big and beautiful. IâÄôve only seen its seats sell out a handful of times, and plays like âÄúThe King and IâÄù are now reserved for smaller theaters that are more affordable to rent. I would be seriously misleading you if I claimed no personal investment in what I write here. As I advocate this Amendment, I do so as a writer in the English department and a dance major at the University. But in few other majors than dance are students required to take classes in grant writing. ItâÄôs an accepted part of the game, of the profession. It is rare to find an artist âÄî especially a dancer âÄî whose company has the monetary resources to provide livable salaries for its dancers, travels and productions at the same time. Indeed, a 2002 study on Minnesota Arts Funding reported dance as the most poorly funded arts discipline in the state. Though IâÄôve found a thriving and supportive artistic community in Minneapolis, it is problematic that funding will always remain an issue. It does not matter whether an artist practices their craft near the galleries of Stillwater or in the metropolitan bustle of Minneapolis and St. Paul, their struggle to support both their work and themselves will remain. It is important to remember that artists âÄî dancers, writers, painters, sculptors, photographers, thespians, etc. âÄî are not hobbyists. The crafts for which they have attended school and maintain a dedicated, daily focus are not extracurricular. They are careers not always recognized by the general populace. When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt employed artists like Dorthea Lange through the Works Progress Association it wasnâÄôt only to provide jobs. They were responsible for the documentation of our countryâÄôs most devastating depression. As a result of the G.I. bill after World War II, many artists were allowed the opportunity to study their work in a university setting not unlike those who study at our own. According to a June press release by the National Endowment for the Arts, artists are 3.5 times more likely to be self-employed, but they are also under employed; one-third of artists work for only part of the year. Additionally, artists generally earn less than workers of similar education levels. In 2005, the median income for artists was $34,800. Though their salaries were higher than the median for total workers, their salaries were lower than the median $43,200 for all professionals. Artists are also twice as likely to have a college degree than other workers in the United States. But in our country, where prestige and success are often measured by education, why are artists earning less if they are more educated? âÄúBecause thatâÄôs the way it is,âÄù you think. âÄúThose left-brainers should have chosen another career if they didnâÄôt want to wait tables for the rest of their lives. Why should my tax dollars support them?âÄù HereâÄôs a hint: capital. The arts are a good investment. According to a recent national study cited by the Star Tribune last week, the arts generate $166 billion annually and provide 5.7 million full-time jobs that cannot exactly be outsourced and shipped overseas. In Minnesota, 1,400 Nonprofit organizations contribute one billion dollars annually to our stateâÄôs economy. Further, individual artists spend $250 million each year with local merchants and businesses. But currently, the majority of arts funding relies on individual donors for support. Once generations shift, however, the philanthropic legacy of those individuals may not carry on. Therefore, something other than individuals, and large companies like 3M who contribute to the Shubert Theater, must come through. But even then, these funders and Nonprofits have been on the decline since 2002. Most Minnesota grantmakers who focus on the arts as a specific funding priority are these private foundations and corporate grantmakers, but most of these organizations exist within the Twin Cities area. So what then of the arts outside Minneapolis? They begin to die, like the arts of St. Cloud. Twenty thousand artists live in our land of 10,000 lakes. Minneapolis boasts more theater seats per capita than any other metropolitan area besides New York City. The question on the Nov. 4 ballot is like our state: anything but fly-over country. Vote yes. ThatâÄôs all it takes, because if you leave it blank, youâÄôve flown over us and said no. Kelsey Kudak welcomes comments at [email protected]