"For anyone whos participating in the arts or who is an aspiring artist, its a responsibility, almost an obligation, for us to work towards better funding for the arts," Josh Kalscheur '07 said. "It was also a good way to see how accessible our legislators are. Often they seem detached from society but they were fairly open to seeing their constituents."
Arts Advocacy Day was organized by Minnesota Citizens for the Arts (MCA), a group that organizes the arts community to lobby Minnesota lawmakers.
Associate Professor of Theater Karen Peterson Wilson and a group of 14 students from St. Olaf were among 500 other advocates who spoke to their legislators. "We always discuss arts advocacy in class and I thought this would be an interesting thing for students to do," Wilson said.
Studio art major Peter Halquist '07 agreed with the importance placed on funding for the arts. "I feel that the arts play a big role in my life and I owe something to myself to go lobby for arts funding," he said. "I have known a lot of artists who have received funding from state money and it has helped them a lot. I wanted to learn more about how states fund the arts and about the issues surrounding that."
Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller spoke during a morning seminar, stressing that Minnesotas cultural heritage is something worth fighting for. He urged advocates to "go for their heartstrings" when talking to representatives and to give them a personal story about how the arts are important to all of us.
House Majority Leader Tony Sertich reminded advocates that this discussion does not end today. Congress will continue to debate funding issues until the end of the legislative session in May.
The primary message to get across was a plea to "restore arts funding to $14 million per year." Because of cuts in 2002, Minnesota lost jobs, programming and access to the arts statewide. The secondary message promoted by the MCA was to "include the arts in any sales tax dedication bill." The proposed bill will dedicate three-eighths of one percent of sales tax revenue to benefit Minnesotas cultural heritage, including the outdoors and arts and culture.
Northfields Representative David Bly, an enthusiastic supporter of the arts, has said, "I am a firm believer in the power of the arts to enhance personal development and build community." While many legislators believe that arts funding is important, many shy away from constitutional amendments. Sen. Thomas M. Neuville said, "While I support arts funding, it should not be constitutionalized."
The tax increase seems to be the most controversial part of the discussion. Wilson said that after they talked to Bly about their requests, Bly countered with the question, "Are you willing to support a tax increase?"
Halquist mentioned the differing opinions of people about funding for the arts. "Most of the people we talked to agreed somewhat with our message, but they didn't really agree that it was necessarily a big priority," he said. "It wasn't really important on their agenda, compared to other issues."