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Local musicians want Legacy Amendment money

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Turf Club
Over its 70-years of existence, the Turf Club has evolved from a grocery store, to a cafe, to ballroom dancing, to country-western music, to its current place as St. Paul's leading venue for up-and-coming rock bands.
MPR Photo/Bill Alkofer

You've heard of a composer winning a grant to write a symphony or a theater company getting public funding to work in the schools. 

What's less heard of is a singer songwriter being awarded a public stipend to finish recording her album, or a hip hop group getting a grant to fix its van so it can tour. 

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Members of the local pop music scene feel like they haven't been allowed their turn at the public trough.

"It's kind of been a beef of mine," said Star Tribune Music Critic Chris Riemenschneider. "One of many." 

Riemenschneider took it upon himself to issue a call to arms to local musicians and their supporters. 

After the election, he wrote a column demanding that local pop music get its share of the Legacy Amendment largess. He says it's every bit as entitled to it as the choreographers, playwrights and heavy hitter arts organizations with the beefy endowments.

"And God love em for getting it, but for a lot of people, I think more people even, the music scene is equally important and deserves to get that kind of funding," Riemenschneider said.

Riemenschneider suspects the main reason local music performers have been deprived of funding is they're not at the table when decisions are made. It could be because they haven't woken up yet.

"You know it's rock n' roll musicians in large part and its club people who work till five in the morning and, it's not an organized community," he said.

It's also a matter of their for-profit or non-profit designation, according to the interim executive director of the Minnesota State Arts Board, Sue Jens. Most musicians haven't obtained 501-C3 status, and Jens said most clubs and bars that present local music are, of course, commercial ventures.

"In the case of the state of Minnesota, in the case of a private funder, we all are required to provide funding for non-profit organizations," she said.

Still, for his article the Star Tribune's Chris Riemenschneider asked key members of the local music scene to send him ideas on how they'd spend money from the Legacy Amendment. The number one response?

"We're getting organized around what is next for Minnesota pop music and our community, and is this a part of it or not?"

"Grants," Riemenschneider said. "Artists want a little money to put towards, maybe recording a CD, or building a little studio or something along those lines."

The State Arts Board, along with several Twin Cities foundations, awards grants to individual artists. Sue Jens said pop musicians are welcome to apply, but the programs are very competitive. 

She said potential grantees need to be aware that funders are very interested in artistic intent. Is the performer pushing a new art form or trying to reach a mass audience? 

"What a funder really looks for is how does this particular artist, how does this particular work, make the world a better place?" Jens asked. "How does it change peoples' lives, how does it help us see things in a new way, how does it help us experience the world, maybe from another person's point of view?"

Jens said local musicians tend not be as schooled or experienced  in the art of writing grants. 

Besides grants, Riemenschneider said other ideas sent his way included more all-age music venues.

"There's two sides to that," he said. "It gives bands somewhere to play but it also [gives] kids somewhere to go and somewhere to hopefully stay out of trouble.

"And then of course, another big issue that people brought up, is health care assistance," Riemenschneider said.

Chris Osgood
Chris Osgood played in the influential Minneapolis punk band "The Suicide Commandoes" and is now Vice President of Organizational Development at McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul.
MPR Photo/Chris Roberts

Which Chris Osgood considers is the number one problem local musicians face, health care that's affordable and available. 

Osgood played in the influential Minneapolis punk band "The Suicide Commandoes" and is now Vice President of Organizational Development at McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul.

"Let's put it this way," Osgood said. "If people are leaving Minnesota because there's not adequate health care for them and their families, and our creative capital is going down as a result, that's a problem."

Osgood is starting to meet informally with other local music advocates to decide how to proceed on the Legacy Amendment. But he says their strategy definitely won't be confrontational.

We're not getting organized around the idea of 'we want to sit at the table' and 'we want a piece of the pie,' " he said.  "We're getting organized around what is next for Minnesota pop music and our community, and is this a part of it or not?"

The State Arts Board's Sue Jens says conversations like that are going on in every sector of the Minnesota art scene and her agency is anxious to hear their recommendations.