Arts Alert: New Individual Artists Grant Travel Restrictions.

New Individual Artist Grants Travel Restrictions

You may have heard that there is a new rule that individual artist grants from the State Arts Board and RACs can no longer be used for international travel or travel outside of the state. I thought you might like to know how this new restriction came into place.

First of all, it’s important to understand that funding for MSAB and Regional Arts Council (RAC) grants comes from two sources in the Minnesota state budget. First, some dollars come from the new Arts & Culture Legacy Fund, which we created with the passage of the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment in 2008. Second, some dollars come from the state’s General Fund, which is the overall state fund that finances most of state government, (from transportation to education etc).

Since the first year they appropriated Legacy funds in 2009, legislators have always placed restrictions on the use of Legacy dollars so that none of those funds can be spent out of state. Why would they do this? Obviously as officials responsible to the people of Minnesota, they want to ensure that tax dollars contributed by Minnesotans benefit Minnesotans. These restrictions have always applied not just to the arts fund, but also to the funds that pay for land and water conservation projects and for parks. So there has always been a restriction on Legacy funds that ensures the money stays in the state. This restriction included the part of Individual Artist grants funded by Legacy dollars, and this has not changed.

However, the portion of arts grants paid for by the General Fund did not have this restriction until this legislative session.

While the individual artist program is extremely important to our cultural community and to MCA and to the MSAB, only a small portion of those individual artist grants paid for travel out of Minnesota. So the amount of dollars we are talking about is relatively small.

But in politics very small things can take on a large importance. The trouble at the legislature started after KSTP did a one-sided attack on individual artist travel which did not include the context for WHY these grants were awarded, how important they can be to contributing to the availability of arts in our state, or how competitive and well-vetted the requests are.

You should know that a public panel of Minnesota citizens oversees the awarding of individual artist grants, just as many panels of Minnesotans oversee all grant making decisions at both the MSAB and the RACs. These many citizens, after reviewing grant applications and ranking the applications according to their merit, award these grants to those applicants who they determine are most worthy and who describe in great detail how the activity will improve their artistic careers, and even more importantly how they will bring the new knowledge back to Minnesota to share with and teach to other local residents, in this way enriching the cultural life of the entire state.

We have to admit to those who are not familiar with the arts community in Minnesota it may be difficult to explain why a foreign trip for one person can benefit the state as a whole. And that was the problem. Coming late in session, with the bullhorn provided by TV, there was no time to explain the nuanced process or goals of travel in this program.  As the controversy blew up, with outcry on both the House and Senate floors, even our friends at the legislature saw the danger to the Individual Artist program and to the whole arts appropriation. The tempest was so quick and loud that rational discourse on the merits was not possible. So our legislative friends had to agree to the travel restrictions to make sure they protected the individual artist program, and by extension arts funding as a whole.

In the end, the legislature approved nearly $8 million more for MSAB and RAC grants for the next two years, which ironically will increase the dollars available for individual artist grants overall. And with more dollars in the pool, more artists will be able to receive state grants.  They will no longer be able to use these dollars for travel, but all of the other ways their careers can be helped along by state grants can still happen, and more of them will be served.

Unfortunately this restriction is now law, and the MSAB and RACs must follow the law whether they like it or not. To their credit the MSAB has allowed those few artists whose applications were dependent upon travel out of the state to re-write their applications without the travel rather than just rejecting them out of hand.

We have to accept that legislators have a right and an obligation, as elected officials, to determine state priorities. In this case MCA believes they were wrong.

But individual artist grants do benefit Minnesotans. The Minnesota artists who receive the grants to further their careers, and the students and audiences in Minnesota who benefit from and experience the knowledge and skills they bring back and share with us are all worthy of this funding.


MSAB announcement on grant changes:

Star Tribune article on the changes: