Because of MCA…

• More Minnesotans experience the arts.
More citizens engage in advocacy.
Nation-leading statewide advocacy efforts have increased access to the arts.
More arts grants awarded across the state.

Governors Arne Carlson and Wendell Anderson, along with Peggy Burnet, Chair of the Minnesota State Arts Board and Kate Wolford, President of the McKnight Foundation, sent this letter which appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune in celebration of MCA’s 40 Years of Arts Advocacy:

“October 1, 2014 (Saint Paul) – Minnesota Citizens for the Arts (MCA) will celebrate 40 years as the oldest and most successful state arts advocacy organization in the country with a party at the Walker Art Center on Saturday, November 1, 2014 at 7:00 p.m.. From its small beginnings in 1975, when annual state funding for the arts was just $300,000, MCA has helped increase state arts funding catapulting Minnesota ahead of its peers to become the nation’s leader in per capita arts funding. Over those 40 years, MCA has been successful in advocating for increased access to the arts, fueling Minnesota’s national reputation as a hotbed of creative activity and high quality of life.”

“The MCA model is to advocate for policies that ensure that regardless of where you live in the state you have access to the arts. Resources reach organizations, artists, audiences and school children in every corner of the state through the unique competitive grant-making system of the Minnesota State Arts Board and Regional Arts Councils, which MCA helped to create.”

“By achieving significant policy victories for artists and cultural organizations, MCA has become a national model in the arts advocacy movement and has significantly expanded access to and involvement in the arts for all people in Minnesota,” said Ra Joy, Executive Director, Arts Alliance Illinois.

Many Accomplishments

ADVOCACY_ARTIST_BachLogoIn addition to Minnesota’s national leadership in arts funding, MCA advocated for and has protected the state’s “Percent for Art in Public Places” program, which acquires works of art to be exhibited in and around the public areas of state buildings. MCA has also been a vigilant watchdog for the nonprofit arts sector, passing a sales tax exemption for nonprofit tickets and protecting other vital nonprofit tax exemptions. In addition, MCA has been active in protecting artists rights by opposing censorship and passing a consignment law to protect artists’ works if galleries go bankrupt.

Another signature accomplishment was MCA’s role in the creation of the state’s eleven Regional Arts Councils which ensure access to the arts across the state.

Legacy Amendment a Historic Victory

Because of MCA, Minnesota is unique in the country for having dedicated funding for the arts in its state constitution. MCA led the cultural community in joining a coalition of hunting and angling, conservation, clean water and parks and trails advocates who passed the groundbreaking Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment.

Just as MCA has never focused on just one part of the arts community or just one part of the state, MCA has never worked in isolation, looking for friends wherever they can find them. MCA’s arts advocates see how we are all connected and how by working together we can make things possible that would otherwise not be possible. Because MCA works in coalitions every day, it was a natural next step to be a part of this larger Legacy coalition. As a direct result of MCA’s ability to work with a wide variety of partners, the citizens of Minnesota voted to ensure 25 years of dedicated funding for the nonprofit arts.

More Minnesotans experience the arts because of the Legacy Amendment:

Since the passage of the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment in 2008, attendance at Arts events in Minnesota has more than doubled:

audience served 10,421,608 (2008) 12,612,314 (2012) 19,000,000 (2015) 23,227,454 (2019)

MCA, in partnership with the Minnesota State Arts Board and Regional Arts Councils, has been successful in advocating policies that resulted in a border-to-border state funding system unparalleled in the nation. This system has enlivened Main Streets across the state by supporting all sizes and genres of the arts, from our largest world-class organizations and the many different genres of mid-sized and small organizations to the individual artists who make it all happen and create the art in the first place. In turn, this results in access to the arts for all Minnesotans no matter where they live or what their circumstances. Arts Funding Now Touches People in Every Corner of the State

“MN Citizens for the Arts is a national leader in the field of arts advocacy and citizen engagement,” confirms Donna S. Collins, Executive Director Ohio Arts Council. “They involve people of all ages and walks of life who are interested in supporting and participating in arts, culture, and arts education. The voice of all citizens is represented in the work of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts.”

Thriving Arts Scene Drives EconomyLegacyLogo

The nonprofit arts provide over $2 billion in annual economic impact in Minnesota. With over 104,148 artists and creative workers according to the most recent census, Minnesota is a hub of artistic energy in the Midwest. Because of the interest of the citizens of Minnesota in having access to artistic opportunities, Minnesota has one and a half times the number of arts businesses per capita than all of our surrounding states, on par with California and New York. MCA’s work has fostered that density of artistic activity.

MCA produces landmark studies about the arts in Minnesota, starting in 2006 with, “The Arts: A Driving Force in Minnesota’s Economy” (2006) and “Artists Count: An Economic Impact Study of Individual Artists in Minnesota” (2007). Now, for all the data you can handle about Minnesota’s artists, arts organizations, audiences, public opinion polling about the arts, and of arts education in Minnesota’s schools, go to:  creativemn.org which we lead with many partners.

A Strong Leader in Citizen Engagement

MCA has trained thousands of citizens in civic activism, giving them the tools and know-how to become arts advocates at the state and local levels. MCA annually organizes Arts Advocacy Day at the Minnesota Capitol which has brought as many as a thousand arts advocates to meet personally with their legislators to talk about the importance of the arts to their communities. At this annual event citizens working with all different arts genres, metro and rural, of all size of arts organizations come together with one voice to meet with legislators.

This means that over time there have been more and more individual citizens who know how to advocate for the arts and are making their cities and small towns hotbeds of creative place making and arts activity. Whether it’s St. Paul, Minneapolis, Rochester, and Duluth, or St. Cloud, Bemidji, Brainerd, Grand Marais, Lanesboro, Montevideo, Mankato, Red Wing and beyond, public and private civic leaders are all more aware of and working to use the arts to increase tourism and civic vitality.

Unusual Longevity and Impact

Organized in 1974, MCA is the oldest continuously operating statewide arts advocacy organization in the country. In forty years MCA has had only six Executive Directors, 21 Board Chairs, and two lobbyists; a longevity that is very unusual in the nonprofit sector and unheard of in arts advocacy organizations in many other states.

MCA received a 2003 Sally Ordway Irvine Award for Commitment, and in 2012 was recognized by Philanthropedia and Guidestar as “Top Nonprofit” for its role in increasing access to the arts in Minnesota.

A Short (But Action-Packed) History of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts

Photo: Carole Achterhof & former MCA Executive Director Diane Gallert.Once Upon A Time

In November 1974, a group of individuals formed Minnesota Citizens for the Arts to build stronger legislative support for the arts. With a handful of dedicated people, MCA began work during the 1976 legislative session when the arts were tied to the stadium bill.

“MCA is still the national leader in arts advocacy. From all the things I learned later on the national level, Minnesota is still the strong presence. And I think the best.”

– Diane Gallert

Although the Arts/Stadium bill did not pass, the session proved to be good preparation for the biennial appropriation to the Minnesota State Arts Board the following year. The effects of a unified advocacy group were demonstrated in 1977 when the biennial appropriation increased from $1 million to $4 million. Large and small arts organizations, individual artists, presenters and audiences from all parts of the state benefited from that increase.
fretheimsimons.jpgPhoto: Former MCA Presidents Maddie Simons and Gary Fretheim.
MCA’s first advocacy efforts were spearheaded by Hope Quackenbush, first Executive Director, Diane Gallert, second Executive Director, and Gary Fretheim, first President of the Board of Directors. “In the 1977 session, we had Brown Bag Day. Everybody on the important committees was visited by a constituent with a bag lunch. Some brought candelabras with the sandwiches,” said Fretheim.

Former board member Mary Martin recalled that “Gary Fretheim would get in his car on Saturdays and drive all over the state with his kids, promoting MCA. He was the heart and soul of the organization. And for both Diane and Megan [Jones, Executive Director 1980-84], it was more than a job. It was a lifestyle.”

“The arts were thought of as elitist, the plaything of the rich and powerful. MCA has done more to change that attitude than anything else.”

– Gary Fretheim, founder and first President of MCA

After hard-won incremental successes, MCA hit some rocky times at the legislature as well, particularly during the early 1980s and the early 1990s, when budget crises sent panic through the government and massive funding cuts swept state agencies. In 1981 and 1982, arts funding dropped 12% and 25%, respectively.

As the fiscal nightmares of the early 1980s subsided, MCA shifted from a defensive mode back into the offense. Over the next several appropriations cycles, MCA was able to recover the lost ground and move the appropriations to ever-higher levels. These victories culminated in the $12 million initiative in 1997 that brought an 80% increase in state funding for the arts, making Minnesota second in the nation in per capita funding for the arts. In 1999, MCA successfully fought off an attempt to cut the state appropriation in half. MCA also helped pass the exemption from sales tax on admissions to arts events and protects current tax exemptions for nonprofit arts organizations.

MCA has helped change the landscape of the arts over time. “The arts were thought of as elitist, the plaything of the rich and powerful. MCA has done more to change that attitude than anything else,” said Fretheim. MCA’s strengths remain its focus of purpose, unity of message and uncomplicated mission.

Our biggest success to date came in 2008 with passage of the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, which tripled state arts funding to $30M annually and put dedicated funding for the arts into Minnesota’s Constitution for the next 25 years.


Photo: Former MCA President Ben Vander Kooi Jr. and State Senator Gary DeCramer, 1984.

MCA’s Board Presidents

Gary Fretheim, 1975-77

Maddie Simons, 1977-78

John Fischer, 1978-80

Karen Jensen, 1980-81

Karen Gray, 1981-83

Curt Lambrecht, 1983-84

Jean Fournier, 1984-86

Gordon Dodge, 1986-87

John Roth, 1987-89

Bill Miller, 1989-91

Charles Skrief, 1991-93

Jennifer Halcrow, 1993-95

Ben Vander Kooi, Jr., 1995-97

Steve Barberio, 1997-99

Sean Dowse, 1999-2001

Barbara Davis, 2001-2003

Rebecca Petersen, 2003-2005

Michael Robins, 2005-2007

Craig Dunn, 2007-2009

Ann Spencer, 2009-2011

Donna Bachman, 2011-13

Faye Price, 2013-2015

David Marty, 2015-2017

Sandy Boren-Barrett, 2017-2019

Mary Ann Aufderheide, 2019-2021

Ross Willits, 2021-present

MCA’s Executive Directors

Hope Quackenbush, 1975-77

Diane Gallert, 1977-80

Megan Jones, 1980-84

Ellen McInnis, 1984-88

Pam Perri Weaver, 1988-95

Sheila Smith, 1996-2021

Sarah Fossen, 2021-Present