What qualifies as Minnesota’s ‘cultural heritage’?

How do you define cultural heritage? That’s one of the questions to emerge while legislation on implementing the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment works its way to the governor’s office.

The constitutional amendment calls for 19.75 percent of the income from a sales-tax increase to be spent on “arts, arts education and arts access and to preserve our history and cultural heritage.” The amendment also requires that the new money must supplement existing state funding and must not be used as a substitute.

About $92 million is expected to be raised over the next two years for arts and culture, based on the state revenue forecast in February. Senate legislation [PDF, pages 76-87] proposes that 50 percent of the money go to the Minnesota State Arts Board and regional arts councils, which distribute money in every county in the state. The House version [PDF, Article 4] suggests 17 percent is enough for the State Arts Board. About 25 percent is expected to go to the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS) for historic preservation efforts.

An expansive view
The remainder? Well, that’s where the definition of cultural heritage seems to be expanding as funding proposals are considered in the first legislative session since passage of the Legacy Amendment.

“We thought it (the language in the amendment) was very simple at the time, and we kept it to a few words, but it’s amazing to me how the word ‘culture’ has expanded to lots of things,” said Sheila Smith, executive director of the Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, which lobbied for several years to get the arts and culture funding included in the amendment presented to voters last November.

Sheila Smith
Sheila Smith

“Civic education” and zoos, for example, are in line to receive funding from the arts and culture preservation fund in the House version. The Minnesota Zoo, the Como Zoo and the Duluth Zoo could receive up to $4 million over the next two years. The House version also suggests $2 million for the Minnesota Center for the Humanities to award grants to “organizations conducting educational programs for the civic and cultural development of Minnesota youth.”

“Civic education? That just seems like it’s out of the blue,” says Smith, whose group continues to lobby for arts funding and adherence to the language in the amendment. “Zoos? I just don’t see it.”

Details will be negotiated in conference panel
Details and differences between the bills will be hashed out in conference committee. The Senate bill is expected to be voted on shortly, and the House bill could be up for a vote as early as tonight.

“I really think it’s early to speculate how all of this will turn out,” said Sue Gens, executive director of the State Arts Board. “It will depend on what decisions are made in the conference committee. We’re hopeful for a good outcome.”

Along the way, legislators have faced a host of questions and requests.

“I actually expected to get more odd stuff (funding requests) than I did,” said state Sen. David Tomassoni, author of the Senate bill and chair of the Senate committee overseeing the legislation (the Finance Committee’s Economic Development and Housing Budget Division).

Sen. David Tomassoni
Sen. David Tomassoni

Tomassoni said sticking with the existing structure, where umbrella institutions like the Minnesota State Arts Board and the Minnesota Historical Society continue to award grants to groups throughout the state, likely reduced the amount of “odd stuff.” Plus, it made sense to stick with the expertise of these established groups rather than create another bureaucracy, he said.

“But whenever there are pots of money available, people will try to access it,” said Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm. His committee did not include civic education and zoos in its version because the civic-education proposal arrived late in the process and the zoos’ request looked more like a “bonding project than a cultural project.”

State Rep. Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown and author of the House bill, defends the broader language allowing for zoos and civic education. “It’s not just the arts bill. It’s arts and culture and heritage, and it’s history and it’s museums and it’s the whole makeup of our society. It’s the things of interest in recreation and our past and future, and we thought that all of that make up our culture.”

Rep. Mary Murphy
Rep. Mary Murphy

How does civic education fit?

“Civic education is a part of our culture and part of our democracy and our Minnesota traditions,” said Murphy, chair of the Culture and Outdoor Resources Committee.

History coalition weighs in for preservation
The Minnesota History Coalition, consisting of the MHS and other preservation groups across the state, had requested that half of the Legacy Amendment income go toward historical preservation efforts. “But many others hope to have a part of the funding … and we’ll leave that in the Legislature’s hands,” MHS Director Nina Archabal said. “We’re certainly grateful for that 25 percent.”

According to the House version, the others include: “public television and radio; civics education; children’s museums; the Science Museum of Minnesota; Minnesota digital library; Minnesota Center for the Humanities, including grants to organizations celebrating ethnic identities of Minnesotans; zoos; councils of color; and the film board.”

Nina Archabal
Nina Archabal

The money in the House bill is “split up between many more entities which aren’t under the categories [listed in the amendment],” said Smith of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts. “We’re advocating that everybody look very carefully at the language of the amendment.”

The Minnesota Zoo’s case
The Minnesota Zoo’s chief financial officer says zoos are part of the state’s cultural heritage. “We are considered what in the vernacular is known as a ‘living museum,’ so we believe we are a cultural institution in Minnesota,” said CFO Peggy Adelmann, who adds that the zoo has an artistic side, including a concert series in the summer, sculptures throughout the grounds and photographic exhibits along the tropics trail.

On the wish list for the Apple Valley-based zoo is reviving “Art Day,” where art students take specialized field trips to the zoo; conducting a competition for an iconic sculpture to be created for the zoo’s entrance, and partnering with either the Children’s Theatre Company or Stages (another children’s theater) to do “theater in the wild,” Adelmann said.

“We believe we fit not only as a cultural institution and a living museum but we also believe we can fit on the arts side,” she said.

Smith prefers that the zoo’s proposals go before the State Arts Board or a regional arts council. “They have panels of experts who can look at issues of art quality and make sure the money is spent well,” she said.

UNESCO’s definition
So, what is cultural heritage? The Minnesota Citizens for the Arts follows the definition of cultural heritage from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Smith said.

According to UNESCO, “cultural heritage” encompasses these categories:

Tangible cultural heritage:

• movable cultural heritage (paintings, sculptures, coins, manuscripts, etc.)

• immovable cultural heritage (monuments, archaeological sites, and so on)

• underwater cultural heritage (shipwrecks, underwater ruins and cities and so on)

Intangible cultural heritage (oral traditions, performing arts, rituals, and so on)

Natural heritage (natural sites with cultural aspects such as cultural landscapes, physical, biological or geological formations, and so on)

Heritage in the event of armed conflict.

Definitions aside, the Minnesota State Arts Board and the MHS are faring better than was expected when the session started. Pointing to the availability of new revenue from the Legacy Amendment, Gov. Tim Pawlenty had called for a 50 percent reduction in general funding for the State Arts Board over the next two years, as well as an eventual phase-out of the agency. He also sought a 15-percent reduction in state funding for MHS. But his proposed reductions in general funding were trimmed in Senate and House committees: The board is expecting about a 16 percent cut from the state, and the society, an 8.6 percent cut.

Amendment specifies money is ‘supplement’
The cuts could have been more painful if not for the Legacy Amendment, which requires that the new money be used to supplement — not substitute — traditional sources of state funding. Nonetheless, the process became a bit frustrating for legislators, Tomassoni said.  

“It was a bonus and frustrating at the same time,” he said of allocating the Legacy money while facing a $4.6 billion state budget deficit. “Here we passed my economic development bill out of the conference committee and sent it to the governor. We had to slash arts funding, the Historical Society, and the grants made to the film industry. We cut workers’ programs. And we’re doing all this budget-cutting, but at the same time we have this pot of money coming in that we’re spending … and unfortunately we can’t take care of the needs of the state within the budget itself. But since the Constitution directs us to do it [allocate the Legacy money], we’re obligated to do it.”

The supplement vs. substitute language in the amendment also caused some confusion, Tomassoni said.

“Whenever you say supplement but don’t substitute, there’s probably a question of what that means. … You could make the case that if the Legislature didn’t fund something, is it now substituting funding? Or is it supplementing if you re-fund it? … So, how that ends up coming out in the wash, I think, will be very interesting in the very near future.”

Issues might resurface later
The same issues could arise in another two years. “At the moment, both of the bills [House, Senate] are two-year bills, so two years from now, depending on how things go and how the investments are used, it’s their (legislators’) choice to make other decisions” on how to allocate future Legacy money, said Gens of the State Arts Board.

“It’s wonderful there is this new money and it sends a really strong message that Minnesotans care about the things in the amendment,” Gens said. “The Legislature has been spending a good deal of time being thoughtful … and they’ve set up a great deal of accountability to the public for anyone receiving the money.”   

Casey Selix, a news editor and staff writer for MinnPost.com, can be reached at cselix[at]minnpost[dot]com.

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