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Talking art in the mayoral race

Posted by: Maya Rao under Politics and government Updated: September 16, 2013 - 11:06 PM

How much should City Hall spend on the arts? What can the city do to encourage more affordable housing for artists and involve them in development projects? And what should a mayor do to resolve the Minnesota Orchestra lockout? Mayoral candidates agreed that the arts are integral to the city’s future at a recent campaign forum at the MacPhail Center for Music, where they answered these and other questions about the role of a city leader in preserving Minneapolis’ arts scene.

Candidates showed broad support for stretching the city’s arts budget by more heavily drawing on the philanthropic and business communities, and ensuring that artists play a greater role in city planning. And they offered some insight into what’s already working.

Council Member Betsy Hodges praised a city program to cover electric utility boxes with artistic designs as an example of how art should be incorporated into everything we do, while attorney Cam Winton singled out artist-designed manhole covers as a smart way to ensure art projects align with a “municipal function.” Former City Council president Jackie Cherryhomes noted that Juxtaposition Arts has transformed the struggling intersection of West Broadway and Emerson Avenue North with public art.

Here are some of the highlights of what the candidates said at the event, moderated by Minnesota Public Radio’s Marianne Combs:

Betsy Hodges, council member:

Hodges said the city must think beyond just building art into a project and think more about affordable spaces for artists to live, including garages and carriage houses. She suggested an initiative allowing neighborhoods to apply to be a test model for using those smaller units as affordable artist housing, adding density “without adding a whole bunch of new buildings” and clustering it around public transit. A panel of people from the arts community could also determine ways to encourage inexpensive artist housing.

Hodges said she wants to make Minneapolis an arts destination and involve people from many segments of the arts community to make it happen. Millennials are choosing where they want to live before anything else, she said, underscoring that the city’s livability is key to its future growth.

Creative placemaking, or using art to transform public spaces, “is not an activity you do once in a while – it’s a way of thinking about how you govern,” said Hodges.

She said she hasn’t wait to be elected mayor to take action on the orchestra dispute, co-authoring a resolution encouraging the musicians and management to come to an agreement. Hodges said city leaders have standing in the dispute because of the public funding poured into Orchestra Hall.

Cam Winton, wind energy attorney:

Winton said he would use the “mayor’s megaphone” to continue drawing attention to the arts community, and enlist corporate and philanthropic partners to support the arts.

He stressed that he supported art spending “going to a purpose that is hand in glove with a municipal purpose,” such as grants for artists to cover graffiti-ridden walls with murals. But he slammed the Convention Center’s “mood ring” sculpture as a waste of public money.

Asked about bringing artists to the table for development projects, Winton said he would not look to add more layers to an already complicated process, though he welcomed people contributing on a volunteer basis.

“I’m hearing a lot of pandering tonight,” he said, adding that his opponents have expressed support for whatever their questioners supported during many campaign forums. “If I were to make a list of all the promises I’ve heard my worthy fellow candidates gave … it would stretch from the top of this beautiful hall down to the floor.”

Winton said that as mayor, if the orchestra lockout was not resolved by March, he would turn Orchestra Hall into a center for job training that accommodated homeless people overnight.

“You don’t get to use public dollars to build yourself a temple and then let it sit idle while vulnerable adults and children across our region lack for basic amenities,” said Winton.

Jackie Cherryhomes, former City Council president:

Cherryhomes began by highlighting several transformations of Hennepin Avenue theaters that she spearheaded while in office in the 1990s, and said as mayor she would be “deeply engaged” in the arts. She said she would build public will to allow the arts to flourish.

While she supports building arts into city infrastructure – like the manhole covers project – Cherryhomes also noted the importance of encouraging artists to start businesses using the city’s economic development funds. She said the city could partner with foundations for assistance, too, and noted the success of façade grants for businesses on West Broadway.

Cherryhomes said she’s concerned that Artspace, a developer of arts facilities with a nationwide portfolio, isn’t doing more work in Minneapolis. The city must break down barriers to building artist housing here, she said, and have a dialogue with developers.

“What excites me is how you revitalize communities using the arts,” she said. “That’s what gets me really jazzed.”

Stephanie Woodruff, software executive and member of city’s audit committee:

Woodruff said that creative placemaking is an opportunity to address poverty and the achievement gap, and also fix neighborhoods.

She’d like to do more to leverage the city’s Art-a-Whirl event, the largest open art studio tour in the country. Woodruff said the city should contact Delta Airlines and its Sky Magazine and ensure that Minneapolis is a destination spot during that annual spring weekend. “We need to leverage the hell out of that,” she said. Woodruff added that she has no problem with the city’s current arts budget of $625,000 is because it is an investment.

Woodruff joked that she has four gay husbands who fill her house with art, “so I see firsthand how they struggle and it breaks my heart.” She that as mayor, she would create a taskforce to study how to encourage creative careers that pay a living wage and develop more affordable housing. She said there are opportunities along the riverfront and in abandoned properties and vacant lots.

As for the orchestra lockout, Woodruff said the “lack of leadership around this issue has been appalling” and she can’t believe that the stakeholders couldn’t figure this out. “This isn’t like solving a war or anything,” said Woodruff.

Mark Andrew, former Hennepin County commissioner:

Andrew believes that the arts not only foster economic development, but also help children achieve more in school – and that city schools should “shore up” their curriculum to reflect that.

He floated the possibility of slightly increasing the amount of money we commit to public arts in city capital programs to 2 ½ percent.

“But we have to be honest, we’re not going to have enough cash to do everything we want to do in the arts,” Andrew said, adding that the city needed to be creative with financing. He cited his experience several years ago pitching a rainwater conservation initiative for the Twins ballpark that raised millions of dollars in private funds and made the facility greener as the kind of creative thinking he would bring to the mayor’s office.

Andrew also wants to help Artspace, a developer of arts facilities, find a way to flourish and secure financing for more affordable artist housing units in Minneapolis.

He said that while the mayor usually shouldn’t get involved in collective bargaining disputes, the mayor also has a “higher calling” when it comes to the year-long orchestra lockout. “The mayor cannot allow the quality of its cultural assets to decline,” said Andrew.

Bob Fine, park board commissioner:

Fine stressed the importance of the arts but declined to make a specific commitment on how much he would fund the arts in the city budget because he intends to review all municipal departments. He said he would bring in private donors.

He said that when it comes to affordable housing for artists, one possible answer is making it easier to set up artists cooperatives. Fine also said he’d like to make it easier for artists to get involved in city planning.

“I want to make our government much more welcoming … we need to sort of bring [artists] to the table and I think we’ve been heading a lot in that direction, but I think we’ve got a lot more to do in this whole area,” said Fine.

The season ticketholder for the Minnesota Orchestra said the mayor must force people in the orchestra dispute to the table.

“I’m a person who negotiates and tries to get the parties together to figure out what their differences are, what the common ground is,” he said.

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