Arts and the environment advocates launch referendum campaign

"Vote Yes" pin
A coalition of 200 groups will launch a campaign to pass the Clean Water Land and Legacy Amendment.
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

The Clean Water Land and Legacy Amendment would generate about $290 million a year by raising the state sales tax three-eighths of one percent. Eighty percent of the money would be set aside for conserving the state's land, water, trails and parks, and about 20-percent would be funneled into the Minnesota art scene.

Sheila Smith, Executive Director of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, has her talking points down when she discusses the need to pass it.

Sheila Smith
Sheila Smith says as much of the amendment concerns conservation, it makes sense to base the campaign to pass the measure on environmental issues.
Image courtesy of Mn Citizens for the Arts

"Over 40 percent of Minnesota's lakes and streams that have been tested are polluted, and we're losing a lot of the things that made Minnesota great for us when we were growing up. And we want to protect it for coming generations," she said.

That Smith's argument is based purely on environmental protection and doesn't even mention the arts isn't surprising, at least not to Smith.

"Well, it totally makes sense," she said. "Over 80 percent of the proposal is about conservation. So it'd be weird if we spent the whole time talking about the arts and culture."

If the arts and conservation groups that make up "Vote Yes Minnesota" are presenting a unified front, it wasn't always that way.

The move to draft an amendment in the legislature was initiated by fishing and hunting enthusiasts more than nine years ago.

When arts organizations wanted to get in on the action there was pretty stiff resistance. Some argued that including the arts would weigh the legacy amendment down and told arts advocates to pass their own amendment.

Steve Morse, head of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, says those tensions have dissipated greatly since the amendment bill was approved by lawmakers.

"I think we've really worked through all those issues and realized we have a lot more in common that unites us then what could potentially divide us and so I think we've really worked through that and I really don't hear that anymore," Morse said.

That's mainly because amendment supporters now believe it has a better chance of passing if they bring their constituencies together. Leslie Schumacher directs the Central Minnesota Arts Board in Foley.

"There are certainly artists and arts enthusiasts that would not necessarily have thought to vote for this particular amendment that now will," she said. "There are environmentalists that if it was just for the arts, they might not support this initiative. But together we have the opportunity to put a legacy for preserving all the areas."

If Minnesota voters approve the amendment this fall, it will dedicate about $30 million a year for the arts. Given previous cuts in state arts funding and a sour economy, arts groups are desperate for the relief.

Leslie Schumacher says the money could be used as an economic development tool in Greater Minnesota.

"When you talk to the owner of the Blue Heron," Schumacher said. "That's a wonderful restaurant in Cold Spring. And you ask him 'What do the arts mean to your business?' He said 'When an arts event is going on in Cold Spring, my restaurant is packed.' It is an economic driver."

Larger, urban arts organizations say the funds will help them better meet their missions.

Gabriella Calicchio, Managing Director of the Childrens Theatre Company, says the CTC would greatly benefit from a new source of public funding.

"That will allow us to do more work in the community in terms of our arts education programs, our community engagement, our accessibility programs," she said.

Polling done by "Vote Yes Minnesota" indicates broad support for the legacy amendment, but the coalition plans to lobby citizens right up to the election. Sheila Smith of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts says the work will be easier now that conservation and arts groups are speaking as one.

"What some people thought was a divide really isn't a divide at all," she said. "We're all very passionate about Minnesota. We love this place and we want to take care of it, and that passion is what brings us all together."

Vote Yes Minnesota will launch its campaign at two this afternoon at the Hyland Park Reserve in Bloomington.

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