An earful from realty icon on Legacy arts funding

  • Article by: JILL BURCUM
  • Updated: January 18, 2010 - 1:58 PM

Sometimes the information that doesn’t make it into an editorial is too good to leave on the cutting room floor.

That’s the case with comments from Ralph Burnet, the realty icon and arts patron whose ire-filled interview with me last week both inspired and shaped Sunday’s editorial on Legacy Amendment funding for the arts. The editorial questioned whether special interests with a tenuous connection to the arts — among them Star Tribune competitor Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) — have had too much say in how the millions generated by the ballot measure will be spent. In 2008, Minnesota voters overwhelmingly approved the measure, which raised the sales tax 3/8 of one percent and dedicated the revenue to the environment, the arts and parks and trails. An estimated $1.2 billion is expected to be generated for the arts over the next 25 years.

Calling Burnet a firebrand on the topic is an understatement. I’d barely even introduced myself when Burnet let fly with this statement: "I am absolutely fumed about this."

Burnet believes that what he calls "non-arts" people are diverting the Legacy funds away from the arts organizations that make Minnesota a cultural mecca. The real arts people, Burnet said, had "their lunch eaten" when lawmakers specified in a 2009 bill that a big chunk of Legacy funding generated over the next two years go to zoos, radio and organizations promoting civics education, among other things.

"I’m surprised they don’t have Dairy Queens in there,’’ said Burnet of lawmakers and the special interest-laden 2009 bill.

Burnet believes the Legacy money should go to the arts organizations voters had in mind when they approved the ballot measure. It’s a sure bet that lawmakers will be hearing a lot more from this outspoken and passionate supporter of the Minnesota arts.



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