When the cameras turned off after his “Lowertown Line” TV taping in May, Brother Ali thanked his band members and his hosts at Twin Cities Public Television for the new local-music showcase.
The Minnesota hip-hop star neglected one key player, however: the state's Legacy Amendment, which paid for the elaborate TV production.
“There was always the desire but never the money to do this kind of a series before,” said TPT executive producer Diane Steinbach. “The Legacy money is absolutely the reason we’re able to do it now.”
Public funding once was a foreign concept in hip-hop, rock and other music genres more commonly seen in clubs than theaters or arts centers. But from “The Lowertown Line” — which returns Oct. 31 with the Ali episode — to such clubs as the Cedar Cultural Center and public radio's the Current (89.3 FM), the music realm that was once the redheaded stepchild of arts funding is feeling some Legacy love.
Approved by Minnesota voters in 2008, the Legacy Amendment increased the state sales tax by three-eighths of a percent for the next quarter century to support outdoors, natural resources and arts projects. The Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund receives 19.75 percent of the total Legacy takeaway each year. That has amounted to $200 million in the past four years.
Before that, “anything not part of the ‘fine arts’ world would often get left out,” said Ellen Stanley, the musician and publicist who now heads the Minnesota Music Coalition. Legacy funding, she said, “has validated musicians as an important part of the arts community, and made musicians proud to live in Minnesota.”
Rock around the state
Using $88,000 in Legacy money for touring arts programs in 2011, the coalition launched Caravan du Nord, an annual series of nighttime concerts and daytime workshops in outstate cities. This year's program kicked off last weekend at the Paramount Theatre in Austin, with a concert by the Cactus Blossoms and Charlie Parr.
“It’s bringing a little Minnesota Nice to a pretty harsh industry,” said Parr, an acclaimed acoustic blues/folk picker. “Music lovers in Minnesota get more music, and musicians get to collaborate and benefit from one another’s experiences.”
Although the MMC has received other funding for the Caravan, Stanley said, “The Legacy funding has been crucial.”
You will hear similar statements at such nonprofit local music institutions as the Current and the Cedar Cultural Center.
An all-ages live-music venue in the heart of Minneapolis’ Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, the Cedar has received $223,000 from the Legacy fund since 2010, including $54,500 in 2011 directed to East African music programs.
The Current has pulled from a broader cache of Legacy money granted to its parent organization, Minnesota Public Radio — about $1.5 million annually — to fund its Local Current projects in recent years, which include a 24-hour all-Minnesota audio stream on its website, a blog, live events and the weekly on-air “Local Show.”
“It’s been huge for us,” Current program director Jim McGuinn said. “It’s allowed us to discover and promote Minnesota musicians not just around the state, but now the world, thanks to [online] streaming.”
Getting better at asking?
As part of the Current’s application to the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund this year — Legacy hopefuls must pitch their projects every two years — the station presented a timeline on local hip-hop trio the Chalice. It traced the group’s rise in popularity to Legacy-funded Local Current projects, starting with the first airing of the group's song “Push It” and ending with an appearance at the Current’s all-local birthday bash at Minneapolis club First Avenue in January.
“This station essentially nurtured us from our infancy as baby caterpillars to big, blossoming butterflies,” Chalice member Claire de Lune said in the Legacy testimonial.
The State Arts Board oversees about two-thirds of the cultural fund's budget. Sue Gens, its executive director, said there has been no concerted effort to green-light more music projects among the 1,400 or so Legacy applications the board receives each year (about 45 percent of which are approved).
“We never really target any particular arts discipline,” she said. But music advocates may be “getting better” at asking for funding, she added, and they are “putting it to better and better use” — Caravan du Nord being a crowning example.
“It’s about making the artists and art forms available to more people,” Gens said, “people who can’t necessarily jump in their car and be to a concert in the [Twin] Cities in 10 minutes. But they can see and hear them on radio and television.”
Like KLRU-TV in Austin, Texas — which birthed “Austin City Limits” — TPT is counting on Minnesota music playing a key role in its programming for years to come. Two more episodes of “The Lowertown Line” are being taped this month, one with Latin dance band Malamanya and another with singer/songwriter Chastity Brown. TPT’s “Minnesota Original” series also frequently spotlights musicians, including an episode premiering Sunday at 6 p.m. with Minneapolis indie-rockers the Greycoats.
Said TPT’s Steinbach, “We feel privileged to be able to show off all the great artists and musicians our state has to offer. It’s only going to snowball from here with this kind of support.”