Amid the campaign advertising blitzkrieg, it would be hard to find a more inconspicuous ballot issue than the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment. And hidden within that initiative to preserve our state's natural resources is the minor share that would go to the arts.
I hope it passes.
There are any number of policy, philosophical and fiscal reasons not to publicly fund the arts. Actually, I agree with many of those arguments against the proposed constitutional amendment. Still, I hope it passes.
I suppose that's because I'm one of those left-brained, logical thinkers who has always been fascinated by imaginative people who can look at a blank canvas and see forms, or who can breathe life into inanimate musical instruments or evoke new worlds with mere words.
As an economist, I pretty much only see blank canvases, and the only musical instrument I can play is a radio, so here's the economic argument on behalf of all those creative types: Arts mean business.
According to a recent national study, nonprofit arts and cultural activities generate $166 billion annually and support 5.7 million full-time jobs -- mostly local jobs that cannot be shipped overseas. In Minnesota, 1,400 nonprofit arts and culture organizations in every corner of the state contribute more than $1 billion annually to our economy.
And we're not just talking about the Guthrie, the Walker and the Ordway. Minnesota arts and culture also means the Commonweal Theatre in downtown Lanesboro, the Arts Meander in and around Montevideo, the Headwaters School of Music in Bemidji, the Paramount Theatre in St. Cloud, and Honors Choirs of Southeast Minnesota. The Ivey Awards, our local version of Broadway's Tony Awards, recently highlighted 68 professional theaters in the Twin Cities, which boasts more theater seats per capita than any other metro area outside of New York.
Minnesota is home to about 20,000 individual artists, who annually spend about $250 million with local merchants and businesses. As our schools continue to cut back on art and music programs, these individuals and the many small and large organizations that serve our communities are becoming the only access our children have to arts and culture -- as evidenced by the flocks of yellow buses that migrate to and from those centers of civility.
I suppose that's the real reason I hope the amendment passes. Heretical as it might sound to my fellow economists, art is more than business. Our legacy is not only the natural resources we preserve for our children, it's also our art and culture. We learn of our heritage from the art our ancestors leave behind.
In a campaign world grown fearful and cynical, it's nice to think that art and culture might still find a home in Minnesota. I hope it passes.
John Gunyou is Minnetonka's city manager.