Minneapolis bestows awards to artists, but no cash

Tonight at 7pm the Minneapolis Arts Commission will present its second annual MAC awards at the Uptown Art Fair.

Awardees in four categories will each recieve citations signed by the mayor, and the right to use the MAC logo on their press materials or website.

And that’s it.

It wasn’t always this way. Eight years ago the city of Minneapolis had its own Office of Cultural Affairs, and granted $30,000 a year to individual artists and small arts organizations. But in 2002 the city cut its Cultural Affairs division down to two people, and its funding for artists went away. Minneapolis Mosaic, a summer event celebrating the arts, is entirely funded through private sources.

Minneapolis Arts Commission member Tamara Nadel says it’s a paradox:

Minneapolis has such a reputation as being a center for arts and culture, for the city not to fund these activities is a little bit embarrassing.

Minneapolis does have an arts budget of $365,000. But the largest portion of that goes to commissioning and maintaining public works of art displayed on city land. Compare Minneapolis to other cities its size around the country, and the difference in their financial commitment to the arts is startling.

Minneapolis – population 765,000; $365,000 spent on the arts in 2009

Nashville – population 619,000, $2.7 million spent on the arts in 2009

Wichita – population 433,000, $3.9 million spent on the arts in 2009

Now look at how much the cities below give out in grants to artists each year:

Seattle – $225,000

Kansas City – $500,000

Oakland – $1.4 million

Portland – $1.6 million

Minneapolis – $0

Minneapolis Arts Commission member Tamara Nadel says the MAC is working to change that. For the second year in a row the MAC is proposing the city fund a grant program for emerging artists.

How much is the commission asking for? Just $8,000.

Nadel says she knows adding grants to the city’s budget is a hard sell in this economy, but she thinks it’s a worthwhile investment.

I think we’re very lucky to have the MN State Arts Board and the Regional Councils. People around the country are in awe of Minnesota for what we’ve done with the Legacy Fund, but what’s missing is that giving at the local level. The more localized the funding, the more it connects artists and arts organizations to their communities.


Nadel says she knows Mayor Rybak is a big supporter of the arts, and that he’s well aware of how important the arts are to the economic development of the city. She’s hopeful he’ll take action on the grants soon.

The longer we wait, I think we run a real risk of losing artists who might move over to St. Paul because they feel more supported and valued there.

Nadel says things looked promising for the MAC proposal last year, but then the economy took another dip, and suddenly the city was looking at eliminating one of the two staff positions dedicated to arts and culture. So the commission stopped pushing its proposal in favor of lobbying to keep the staff position.

Tonight’s Minneapolis Arts Commission awards are as follows:

The Award for Community Involvement in Public Art goes to Reynaldo Diaz and Connie Beckers for their project “Awakening,” a stained glass window that celebrates the plants and animals of Loring Park. Located at the Loring Park Community Arts Center.

The Award for Celebrating the City through Public Art goes to artist Sean Smuda for his project “Hopes and Dreams,” which is made up of 20 portraits depicting the city’s diversity.

The Award for Integration of Public Art in Private Development goes to Joshua Sartantitis and Forecast Public Art for “Loring Water Lilies” on the Loring ramp, a mural inspired by Monet’s paintings of water lilies.

This year the MAC added a fourth category, the Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Arts and the Community. That award goes to Ten Thousand Things Theater, a company which brings high quality theater to homeless shelters, prisons, rehab clinics and housing projects.

  • Trueenough

    Is this a true apples-to-apples comparison? All that money (Wichita?!?!) coming from the municipality itself? If you factor in what’s granted to Mpls artists through the MSAB, MRAC and Percent for Art commissions, I certainly hope our public support of artists outperforms KANSAS, for gosh sakes. (No offense to Kansans!) Could it be just that the infrastructure of support is different, regionalized rather than localized?

    The City of Mpls takes all the heat for those damn $500,000 water fountains, we sure as heck ought to be able to include that dollar amount in our total. 🙂

  • Kalle

    Fantastic, I wish, in this case, we lived in the twin cities area and knew where these events were taking place.

    Great work,


  • Dan Pinkerton

    In 2004, Pawlenty axed MSAB funds before the theatre grant panel met. Staff members voluntarily reduced their hours so that three $4,000 grants (originally, it was supposed to be five $8,000 grants) could be awarded. I won one of them. It meant the world to me. I have never forgotten their selflessness.

    I admire good administrators (fundraisers, business managers, artistic directors, etc.) and they have to eat, too. But what if one of the positions had been reduced to 36 hours a week? Would there have been $1,000 for each winner?

    Supporting the arts and supporting arts administrators is not the same thing. As with a good play, their actions revealed their priorities.

  • Tamara Nadel

    @Trueenough, thanks so much for your comment. I can give you some background on the numbers quoted here.

    The first set of numbers—comparing Minneapolis to Wichita and Nashville—compares the total amount of support provided by these cities for the arts. These figures include not only grants made directly to artists and arts organizations, but also the commissioning and maintenance of public art (like the drinking fountains in Minneapolis), city staff salaries, etc. The source of the figures is a spreadsheet comparing local government support for the arts in the 60 largest cities in the country. The spreadsheet was prepared by Americans for the Arts (a national advocacy group), with data provided by the United States Urban Arts Federation.

    The second set of numbers compares the actual amounts granted directly to artists and arts organizations by city arts agencies (the counterparts of the Minneapolis Arts Commission) in Oakland, Portland, Kansas City, and Seattle. The sources are press releases and announcements posted online by those city arts agencies.

    About the drinking fountains, you’re right that the City initially proposed spending $500,000 on ten artist-designed drinking fountains. At this time, one of the fountains has been completed, three are in progress, and six are on hold. The budget of the four drinking fountains that are either completed or in progress is $232,000 (spread over more than one year), and is reflected in the $365,000 figure provided by Americans for the Arts.

    I hope this helps clarify the comparisons.

  • Trueenough

    Tamara — thanks so much for the background and additional details!

  • Trueenough

    Tamara — another curiosity, if you have the data: we’ve talked a lot about Mpls, how does St. Paul fare? Perhaps not precisely comparable population-wise, but we could factor that into a comparison. Would be interesting to see if the new momentum growing in St P’s artist communities is reflected in gaining momentum in public funding, compared to Mpls or to any of the other municipalities mentioned…

  • Marianne Combs

    Trueenough: I’ve got a request in to St. Paul arts guy Joe Spencer for just that information – I’ll let you know what I find out as soon as I hear from him.

  • http://www.muperformingarts.org Don Eitel

    I know that when Mu Performing Arts needed to expand into new office space, St. Paul was very attractive due to their support for the arts. Not only through the Saint Paul Cultural STAR grants, but also through a lot of business and foundation philanthropy that likes to keep their money in St. Paul. We now have offices in the Lowry Building in the downtown area.

  • Marianne Combs

    I spoke to Joe Spencer, and while he hasn’t gotten back to me on a final number for the St, Paul arts budget, he says the city gives away between 1.5 and 1.6 million in grants to arts organizations each year. Here’s the breakdown:

    80% goes to arts non profits in downtown St. Paul, and 20% goes to either St. Paul arts non-profits *not* in downtown, or arts or creative businesses that are for-profit, located in downtown St. Paul (e.g. Black Dog music festival).

    As for giving to individual artists, Spencer says the city is working more to facilitate funding grass roots artistic efforts, and one of the ways they’re doing that is by allowing non-profits like Springboard for the Arts to serve as stewards of the grants on behalf of individual artists.