Archive for the Minnesota State Arts Board Category

Before I complete my thoughts on one Minneapolis artist who is currently skirting the abyss, a few more words on the topic of how poorly Minneapolis treats its arts community and its less fortunate despite its entrenched self-image (and deep amounts of supporting propaganda to support the image) as a place particularly enlightened and progressive on these issues.

A few weeks ago I quoted a local artist who had blogged that Minneapolis was not all that friendly to artists. After my post, the blogger responded with this: “Minneapolis shouldn’t feel bad about not supporting artists. Lots of places can’t support their artists. But Minneapolis should stop making out with itself in the mirror and take a look at itself instead.” He also wrote: “I think this place is a fine spot for a middle class, well adjusted, creative person with a descent backup plan to get a good start. I believe that I have personal issues that keep me from realizing my goals, specifically in this place.” And he vowed to leave Minneapolis soon: “Come 8/31, there’s nothing keeping me here. Unless I start a fun dance band, or find my calling in middle management, or give myself a labotomy, I’m moving.”

Barbara Ehrenreich, in her exposé about the working poor in America, Nickel and Dimed, famously exposed Minneapolis as being among the least friendly places for people without money. In Minneapolis, the ”living wage” was calculated to be $11.77 an hour, and Ehrenreich got a job at Wal-Mart paying $7 an hour. Because of the poor layout of the city and the inadequate public transportation, she had trouble getting to work on time (she went carless for the duration of her experiment). And because of the lack of affordable housing, she could not find a decent apartment and had to stay in a barely adequate rattrap motel—like many of her co-workers. While she wondered at first how her co-workers could even think of paying $40 to $60 a day for a dive of a room (totaling up to $1500 a month), she soon realized that low-wage earners had to deal with a double-edged sword—they could not afford to pay the large sums (a full month’s rent, plus a down-payment, plus bills, etc) needed to rent a more cost-effective apartment and so had to live in more expensive, less suitable conditions.

Earlier today, meanwhile, the artist Combs made final preparations for walking away from his modest apartment—writing on an artist forum: “i quit existing on paper soon. hidden place in which to land and radiate art, incognito in society, unseen and silent… i feel like moving like a shadow down between the cracks of society and back again. lost and unlost. whole and broken hearted. pulling something out of the self that has craved the foreground, albeit bringing a new lonliness with it…”

I once quoted the Minneapolis gallerian Thomas Barry on how he felt about the city after running a gallery there for nearly thirty years: “In general, [local support] is nowhere near what is necessary to make it a vital place for showing and making art….It was better in the Eighties, most definitely. Art was a fashionable thing and people bought into it….But it’s pretty much been flat for a long time now. A lot of talented people can’t continue to make art because they can’t afford to.”

Were Minneapolis a better place for the working poor—be they artists or non-artists—it might be easier to forgive the place for patting itself over and over for its wonderful self-image. But in addition to the fact that the poor can barely survive here, and artists (who come from all over the region to be in the place that constantly extols itself as an artistic Mecca) often flounder here to get established and to thrive, as I described in 2006, in reality, at best, Minneapolis/Minnesota ranks below average nationally as an art center. Among the failings of Minneapolis in the art realm: in 2003, budget cuts of 30-60 percent decimated the State Arts Board, and while much of the budget was restored for the current biennium (after four years of struggle among arts orgs and artists), that money is likely to go the way of the dodo yet again next year—owing to yet another brutal state budget deficit; arts employees in Minnesota are generally paid 30-50 percent less than their counterparts in other places, leading to large rates of job attrition in the arts worker corps; neither Minneapolis nor St. Paul has a cultural affairs officer, a public arts plan (though St. Paul has a modest non-profit public art org), a functioning arts and culture plan, a cultural tourism initiative or plan, or any of the other features of other cities/regions serious about their arts community; and, of course, all of these factors trickle down and lead to continuing despair and hopelessness among the artists on the ground.

The Chronicle of Artistic Failure in America is proud to introduce a new feature: Minnesotan Art Failure Tales (MAFT).

MAFT, Chapter the First

Minnesota Loses Its State Arts Board Director (A Continuing Saga)

Tom Proehl announced yesterday, via a cheerful letter to the Minnesota State Arts Board’s constituent members, that he is resigning as director of the Arts Board to take a “leadership post” with the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco.

Normally, such an announcement would not carry the weight of artistic failure, and artists and art lovers in this great and humble state I call home could be confident that the once-vaunted local government agency that is the primary state institution charged with fostering artists and arts activities here would carry on its good work. However, it’s my opinion that Proehl’s leaving—after just a bit over one year on the job—leaves the local arts landscape rather desperately denuded.

As I wrote sometime in the year prior to Proehl’s coming on board—during which, owing to various factors, no one could be found to serve in the position—the State Arts Board was rather dysfunctional. In an November, 2006 essay (written a month or so before Proehl’s hiring) called “Adjust Your Sails, Minnesota Artists,” I put it this way:

The Minnesota State Arts Board is one of the oldest such agencies in the United States and has a rich history of supporting art and artists; however, recent times have not been good to the board. Perhaps you’re aware that in 2003 the state legislature, at the prodding of the governor’s office, cut arts appropriations in the state between 30 and 60 percent, depending on which budget line you’re looking at, and not a dime of this funding has since been restored. Perhaps you’re also aware that we’ve been without a State Arts Board director for nearly a year, ever since Bob Booker stepped down last December. But you probably don’t realize the Board itself, perhaps because of the above factors, is a mess, deflated by its inability to hire a top candidate, preoccupied with staff issues and conflicts, and lacking focus in leading up to the recent legislative budgetary request. (I know these things first-hand, after attending recent State Arts Board open-to-the-public meetings.)

“The core issue with the State Arts Board,” I continued, “is stinginess.” The Minnesota State Arts Board pays wages well below the norm. For instance, the offer range for our director position was $20,000 to $40,000 below equivalent positions in several other states. (State Arts Board program officers also make markedly less than their colleagues in similar positions elsewhere; and this is in a state with a reputation for being historically pro-art.)

There’s no doubt today Tom Proehl was lured away by a salary twice (or more, according to Guidestar) what he made as our nordern state’s highest, and arguably most important, public art official. The very fact that such an important figure can so easily and quickly be lured away is one sign of the sad state of local attitudes about the value of art (and a sad state of these artistically failing times).

For what it’s worth, I’d met and interviewed Tom Proehl about halfway through his quick tenure at the Minnesota State Arts Board, and I’d liked him immediately. Even more importantly, I believed he intended to do good things in his position as director. These are quotes by Tom Proehl from that interview that stand out now:

“So we’re moving forward. I think we have a long way to go to make the arts imperative in this state. I think it is about education, and making sure that people know what we do and what the arts do for the population of the state…”

“Right now we’re starting our strategic planning process, which will probably take about a year. We’re going to do convenings across the state—meet with artists, meet with institutions, meet with educators—and try to truly understand how we can support them. What do the artists need, what do the institutions need? We don’t need any more programs where people need to jump through hoops. We just need more funding.”

…[I’m looking to] put our resources into creating a stronger network of resources, putting our financial resources together so that we can create resources for artists, for arts institutions, for educators. It’s truly about making sure that we are serving the state’s population in the best way that we can.”

What’s really unfortunate is over the past six months (since the interview) Proehl had been doing exactly what he said he’d do. He was asking good questions about the Board’s strategies and about its outdated procedures and procedures. He had overseen a restoration of funding levels very close to those of 2003, before cuts were made by a legislature facing extreme budget deficits. He was expanding staff to better tackle the state arts community’s needs. He was beginning to provide a much-needed vision for the arts in this state. While he seemed a little less upbeat the last time I saw him, a few months ago, saying something about how “glacial” was the pace of change in the arts, he was nonetheless still upbeat and gave no indication he was thinking of leaving his position.

Without someone like Proehl at the helm, I’m afraid our Arts Board is going to spiral into more confusion and dysfunction. And without a decent arts life here in Minnesota what are we left with? A very cold Oklahoma?

Ah well, our loss is San Francisco’s gain. All the best to you, Tom Proehl.