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Arts looks forward to more money

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ST. PAUL - State and local arts initiatives will soon get a big funding boost.

Art, history and cultural initiatives expect to receive $93 million over the next two years as a result of a constitutional amendment passed last November that increased the statewide sales tax for outdoors and arts programs.

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Arts supporters said that money will expand culture and history programs around the state, expose more children to museums and theatrical performances and support artists' work.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed legislation that appropriates the spending for the next two years.

The money could go to local music and theater grants, regional library systems, zoos and to save disappearing American Indian languages. It likely will be several months before programs see funding; the tax increase goes into effect July 1.

Nearly half of the arts and culture funding is targeted to the State Arts Board -- $43 million for the next two years. Executive Director Sue Gens said that much of the board's appropriation will be dispersed to 11 regional arts councils. Those councils will decide what local art and culture programs receive funding.

"Our goal is that every Minnesotan should have the opportunity to participate in the arts," Gens said.

Gens said that because the state is entering the first year of the dedicated funding program, and because of the slow economy, no one really knows how much sales tax revenue the state will collect.

Besides the State Arts Board appropriation, the Historical Society will receive $22 million over two years and smaller amounts will be set aside for other cultural institutions.

Historical Society Director Nina Archabal said her group will use the money for statewide programs, grants to local and regional historical organizations and for projects involving numerous local groups.

"There's desperate need for that money to go out to these organizations," Archabal said.

Currently, she said, nearly 500 county and local historical organizations compete for less than $60,000 a year in grants.

Lawmakers want about $2 million from the arts funding spent on Ojibwe (Chippewa) and Dakota (Sioux) American Indian language preservation programs.

Indians worry their native languages are nearing extinction because a dwindling number of Indians speak them. Annamarie Hill-Kleinhans of the Indian Affairs Council said language preservation programs exist, but they are local and lack coordination.

The funding includes $1.4 million for language preservation grants and a working group to study the state of Indian languages. Another $500,000 is targeted to Dakota and Ojibwe language immersion programs.

"The significance of this is enormous," Hill-Kleinhans said. "It's new and it's a very good start."

Some funding is targeted to certain organizations. The Lake Superior Zoo is expected to receive more than $100,000 in each of the first two years for programs at the Duluth zoo.

Public broadcasting - Minnesota Public Radio and the Minnesota Public Broadcasting Association - are slated to receive more than $11 million in grants to expand regional news and culture and history programs.

During legislative debate about the constitutional amendment, opponents said arts programs stood to receive a windfall of public tax dollars and far more than they are given through existing government funding.

The State Arts Board expects to receive $8.6 million in general state tax dollars in the budget year beginning July 1, a 16 percent decrease from this year's funding of $10.2 million.

Gens acknowledged that the dedicated revenue will result in an increase in funds to the board, but said the board is slowly recovering from a 33 percent general state budget cut in 2003.

"We believe that the contribution the arts make to the state are significant and this is a much better match in public investment in those activities," she said.

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