There's an art to using Legacy funds

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 8, 2013 - 6:38 PM

Almost 20 percent of the Legacy Amendment tax revenue funds the Arts and Cultural Heritage. You knew we’d get some goofy projects — “$16,932 to study 1940s nurses slang in Mankato-area hospitals,” just to make one up — I hope — but at least it would keep artists from turning to a life of crime, or advertising.

We thought it would work like this: “Artist X will use the money to make a movie about Minnesota, set in Minnesota, using Minnesota actors, with a free showing to express gratitude to the taxpayers who made it possible.”

Not: “Artist X will use the money to study Polynesia creation theology in Hawaii in December for a movie to be shot in Los Angeles. It will be shown twice at the Parkway Theater. (Tickets $10)”

Turns out it’s the latter in many cases. I’ve just concluded an investigation of the spending on outstate Legacy grants (meaning, I read the documents on KSTP’s website) and the documents include expenditures like this:

“[Artist] will travel to New Zealand and India to work with choreographer Lemi Ponifasio, of the MAU ensemble, to explore a new collaboration. Upon her return to Minnesota, she will present a lecture demonstration to introduce Minnesota audiences to Ponifasio’s work.” ($10,000)

“The Hobbit” was shot in New Zealand, and that played for a while at the Southdale movie theater. Or: “[Musician] will research Thomas Jefferson’s collection of harpsichord music from his personal music library in Monticello and present it in recital throughout Minnesota.”

Inasmuch as Jefferson was crucial to the creation of the nation that would later include Minnesota, yes, there’s a connection, so maybe we’ll let that one go, too.

There are almost 50 examples. This must make many people in Minnesota arts community feel like absolute fools. I wrote a novel about Dinkytown last year — all on my own! Idiot! — and it would not have occurred to me to ask the state for car fare and parking meter money. There’s six bucks I’ll never see again. What I should have done was ask for $10,227 to explore a collaboration with a French pastry chef so I could hold a reading at Al’s Breakfast.

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858

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