Politics and arts: Legislators’ reasoning in grant changes, quicker visas proposed for performers

Courtesy of MN House Public Information Services
In the final days of the legislative session, lawmakers redefined how Minnesota State Arts Boards grant funds may be used for travel.

Many Minnesota artists and arts supporters are irate over recent changes to Minnesota State Arts Boards grants. In the final days of the legislative session, lawmakers redefined how grant funds may be used for travel. Previously, artists could use a portion of their MSAB grant to travel pretty much anywhere for work related to their project. They could also use grant money to bring other artists into Minnesota from elsewhere. Not anymore. Grant funds may now be used only for travel within Minnesota by Minnesota artists.

How did this happen? Was it a last-minute act of legislative legerdemain? A pitched partisan battle on the floor? Turns out, neither of the above. 

It likely began with an article on the right-wing blog Watchdog published March 14 titled “Minnesota artists travel the world at taxpayer expense.” KSTP picked up the story a few days later (“Records Show Artists Took Tropical Trips on Minn. Taxpayers”). In May, Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, offered an amendment to the Legacy bill that won bipartisan support, even from ardent arts advocates like Sen. Richard Cohen, DFL-St. Paul. Cohen, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, was a key author of the Legacy Amendment that annually channels millions of dollars to arts and culture in Minnesota.

cohen photo
Sen. Richard Cohen

“I had some concerns,” Sen. Cohen told MinnPost on Wednesday. “The intent [of the Legacy Amendment] was to provide some stability to arts organizations in Minnesota, provide access to arts and cultural activities to people throughout the state, and make sure that underserved communities had access to arts and cultural activities throughout the state, not just in the cities. I never anticipated that we’d be paying individual artists to go do something outside the state of Minnesota, no matter what the artistic merit.

“If we had unlimited money, great. We don’t. If it’s a choice between making sure you’re taking care of getting kids in Thief River access to an arts experience, as opposed to sending someone out of the country or out of the state to show that Minnesota is a creative community, that’s a role for the tourism office.”

Was Cohen surprised by how much Minnesota artists were traveling? “I was. I’m not against spending money on the arts, and I support money to individual artists. But I didn’t realize that we were providing money [for artists] to go outside the United States. I think it’s a bit of a stretch to suggest there is a significant benefit within the state of Minnesota. … State arts board money is for the enhancement of the arts community in Minnesota, and most importantly, enhancement for the citizens of Minnesota.”

Was there any opposition to Benson’s proposal? “The amendment passed unanimously, and I don’t recall any dissent. I think that’s a reflection that all of us understand that public dollars can be scarce under the best of circumstances. This isn’t the best of circumstances. I’m not critical of individual artists having the chance to enhance their artistry, but same as with any public program, you can’t do everything, and this [travel outside the state] is something I don’t think we have the ability to do.”


On the topic of traveling artists, U.S. Senate on Monday approved an amendment to the immigration bill that should make things easier for venues like the Cedar and the Walker to bring in artists from other countries. Sponsored by Sens. Pat Leahy, D-Vt.,  and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the Arts Require Timely Service (ARTS) Act seeks to improve visa processing for foreign guest artists preparing to perform in the United States. Since 9/11, America’s visa program for foreign artists has become increasingly labyrinthine, with delays, extra expenses, and frequent cancellations part of the process. Earlier this month, the English artist Tricky was forced to cancel his June 18 date at First Avenue because of visa issues. If you want to know more, here’s an issue brief Americans for the Arts prepared for Arts Advocacy Day.

The Arts Board has an opening for an Advisory Review Panel Coordinator (Arts Program Associate 1), a full-time, permanent position in St. Paul. This key person is responsible for ensuring that the Arts Board has well-qualified, well-prepared volunteer advisers who can conduct artistic and administrative reviews of applicants, review grant applications, and make grant recommendations for the board’s consideration. And presumably keep an eagle eye out for the word “travel.” FMI.

Funeral services for Jeanne Arland Peterson will be held Monday, July 15, at 1 p.m. at St. Peter’s Catholic Church, 6730 Nicollet Ave. South in Minneapolis. Visitation begins at 11:30 a.m. at the church. Peterson, a pianist and singer known as the “matriarch of Minnesota music,” died Sunday at age 91. Memorials to the Jeanne Arland Peterson Music Foundation, PO Box 390697, Minneapolis, MN 55439-0697.

Tim O’Brien

Minnesota native and Vietnam veteran Tim O’Brien has won the 2013 Pritzker Military Library Literature Award for Lifetime Achievement in Military Writing. O’Brien is the first fiction writer to receive the Pritzker, which includes a $100,000 cash prize. He is the author of “The Things They Carried,” “In the Lake of the Woods,” “If I Die in a Combat Zone,” and “Going After Cacciato,” which earned the National Book Award in 1979. O’Brien was drafted into the U.S. army and served as an infantryman in Vietnam. In accepting the award, O’Brien said, “I’ve always looked at myself not as a war writer but rather as a writer about peace. True, my stories take place in situations of combat, great trauma, great stress, great horror, but at the same time those stories are meant in the end to expose war for what it is: a savage, brutal, oftentimes unnecessary undertaking.” O’Brien now lives and teaches in Texas.

Spindle adapter

We hope you’ve held on to at least one spindle adapter, that strange little plastic disc you snap into the middle of a 45-rpm record so it will play on a turntable spindle. (We hope you’ve held on to a turntable.) Secret Stash, the Twin Cities label that last year brought us the terrific compilation “Twin Cities Funk & Soul,” is about to release three new 45s: by the Minneapolis Afrobeat group “Black Market Brass,” soul singer Sonny Knight and the Valdons. Coming up: 45s from Jackie Harris, Wanda Davis and the Dérobé Dance Band. This news makes us want one of those 1950s record players that came in a box with a handle, like a cardboard suitcase.

Nearly 50 new foods have been added to the State Fair’s menu. Many are deep-fried, some are on a stick, and several have bacon. Sounding awfully good: Bacon-Wrapped Grilled Shrimp On-A-Stick. Candied Bacon Cannoli (caramelized bacon + sweet ricotta + fried pastry shell). Double Bacon Corndog (bacon-wrapped hot dog dipped in corndog batter blended with bacon bits). Lobster Macaroni & Cheese. Peanut Butter & Jelly Malt. Wine-Glazed Deep Fried Meatloaf (meatloaf on a stick, deep fried, with a red pepper wine glaze). Cocoa Cheese Bites (cheddar cheese nuggets breaded with cocoa puffs, fried and served with chocolate dipping sauce). Wait – maybe not that one. We have to draw the line somewhere.

bacon cannoli
Courtesy of the Minnesota State Fair
Candied Bacon Cannoli

Have lunch with two authors on Friday, July 12, and nail down some of your summer reading. Chris Bohjalian is the New York Times bestselling author of “Midwives” and “The Sandcastle Girls.” His latest, “The Light in the Ruins,” is a story of love, despair and revenge set in Tuscany during and after WWII. Mmmm, Tuscany. Award-winning journalist Stephen B. Kiernan makes his fiction debut with “The Curiosity,” a thriller that begins with the discovery in the Arctic of a man buried deep in ice. Can he be reanimated? What happens when he is? Justin Cronin, who wrote “The Passage” (the page-turner everyone was reading in summer 2010), said nice things about this book. Both authors will read, schmooze, and dine with you at Fabulous Fern’s in St. Paul. A prepaid reservation ($44) gets you lunch, a signed copy of “Light in the Ruins,” and 20% off “The Curiosity.” Call SubText: a Bookstore at 651-493-3871.

Our picks for the weekend

Opening tonight (Friday, June 28) at the St. Anthony Main Theatre: “Becoming Traviata.” A behind-the-scenes documentary about a recent French production of Verdi’s tragic opera, starring colatura soprano Natalie Dessay. Trailer here. You can also see it Saturday or Sunday, or wait until Monday and attend a pre-screening party with live opera performance at the Aster Café’s River Room. We’d pick the party. FMI and tickets. Through Thursday, July 4.

Opening tomorrow (Saturday, June 29) at the St. Anthony Main Theatre: “The Audience.” Helen Mirren was born to play Queen Elizabeth II (and DCI Jane Tennison in “Prime Suspect,” and the housekeeper in “Gosford Park,” and Morgana Le Fay in “Excalibur,” and – oh, forget it, she could play a rabbit in “Watership Down” if she wanted to). She’s back as Her Majesty in the London production of Peter Morgan’s play, broadcast as part of National Theatre Live. FMI and tickets. Through Sunday, July 7.

Today and tomorrow at the Fairgrounds: the 23rd Annual Twin Cities Antiquarian & Rare Book Fair. Browsing, shopping, speakers and special events for bibliophiles:  remarks by Mark Dimunation, Chief of Rare Books and Special Collections at the Library of Congress; Minnesota literary trivia; a talk by blogger Stephen J. Gertz titled “From Athanasius Kircher to Ashton Kutcher: 350 Years of Strange, Unusual, and Just Plain Weird Books;” a chance to have up to three of your own books evaluated by an expert for rarity and value. Friday, 3 p.m. – 8 p.m., Saturday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. at the Progress Center ($7, $5). Visit the facebook page FMI.

Kenny Werner
Courtesy of Kenny Werner
Kenny Werner

Today and tomorrow: the 15th Annual Twin Cities Jazz Festival. What began in 1999 as a small event on Peavey Plaza (founder Steve Heckler hoped for 300 people; 3,000 showed up) now draws 30,000 to Mears Park. When sponsorship faded for the Minneapolis event, St. Paul threw open its arms and its wallet, and the Festival now has a home in Lowertown. More than 300 musicians will perform on multiple stages until the hard-core fans close down the Artists’ Quarter in the wee hours of Sunday morning.  The festival actually started last night, but tonight the main headliners begin coming through: pianist Kenny Werner (with Johannes Weidenmueller and Ari Hoenig) today; drummer Matt Slocum (with tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III) tomorrow, followed by the Cyrus Chestnut Trio (with Eric Reavis and Evan Sherman). Visit the website for a schedule and artists’ bios. Except for cover charges at some of the venues, the festival is free.

It’s PRIDE weekend. Now that gay marriage is legal in Minnesota and SCOTUS has struck down DOMA, this could be the happiest, giddiest, dare we say gayest? PRIDE of all. There’s a block party in Uptown, concerts by the Twin Cities’ Gay Men’s Chorus, a book reading by Chris Kluwe, an LGBT wedding expo, a parade on Sunday along Hennepin Avenue, a festival in Loring Park, continuous entertainment, and more, more, more. Visit the website and download a PRIDE Guide.

Monday at Hell’s Kitchen: the Minnesota Fringe edition of Musical Mondays. A pre-Fringe snack tray of shows featuring new music, with selections from “Teenage Misery: A Horror Musical” (Devious Mechanics), “Port Authority” (Fontanas Cabaret), “Now It’s Art” (Superstar Unlmited), “Oil Tutor: The Musical” (I love you, Bickwitus Productions), “The Unknown Matters” (Broken Boot Theatre), “Hello Stranger” (The Newton Theatre), “Shelly Bachberg Presents: How Helen Keller and Anne Frank Freed the Slaves: The Musical” (The Jansonowicz Players), and a special appearance by last year’s Fringe hit, “Pop Up Musical.” Doors at 6:30, show at 7. Happy hour until 8. 80 S. 9th St., Minneapolis. $5 suggested donation. 

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