Recently, a variety of local radio and television hosts have criticized the city of Fargo and its funding of the arts. It’s more accurate to say that there is a tremendous amount of misinformed talk about what this funding relationship with the arts is.
I think it’s a good time to clarify what the cities do for the arts, where the dollars go and how they are used, since The Arts Partnership is actually the initial recipient of those dollars, and not Plains Art Museum, as has been widely speculated recently.
For at least the past 30 years, the city of Fargo has had a funding relationship with The Arts Partnership, formerly the Lake Agassiz Arts Council. This relationship began as a way for the city to ensure that it had a responsible and equitable process to fund a variety of arts nonprofits. Over the years, the cities of Moorhead and West Fargo followed suit, although at significantly lower dollar amounts.
But do you know why this funding really began? Because people want the arts in their community, and city and state governments have to be responsive to the needs and wants of their constituents. Whether you attend a play, a museum opening, a recital or not, having an active cultural and artistic community is good for business, good for at least a healthy subset of the population and ultimately good for the overall economy. Reasonable people understand this and fund the arts regardless of personal interest in them.
Now, here’s what’s true about the relationship the city of Fargo has with the arts:
The funding comes out of the Fargo Social Service and Art fund. The Arts Partnership for the past two years has received $90,000 from the city of Fargo and received fewer dollars in the previous 30 years. This is the single, consistent check written from the city to the arts community.
The Arts Partnership immediately places 60 percent of that, or $54,000, into the City Arts Partnership re-granting line in our budget. We do the same 60-40 split with the dollars from the other two cities as well. That 60-40 split was established by the city of Fargo and the Lake Agassiz Arts Council years ago. It has since been dropped as a formal piece of the relationship, but The Arts Partnership’s board of directors chose to continue funding the City Arts Partnership grants at the same level.
That 60 percent from the three cities is roughly $71,000 total, and all of that money is re-granted to nonprofits making art. In June 2014, The Arts Partnership re-granted $71,200 to 33 tri-city organizations through a formal grant application. An eight-person committee, appointed by The Arts Partnership executive director, reads every application and meets to make funding recommendations that The Arts Partnership’s board of directors ultimately approve.
This is an extremely transparent process. You can see every organization that has received funding this year and their grant amount on The Arts Partnership’s website. Contrary to recent speculation, Plains Art Museum did not, nor will, receive a massive amount of this money. In 2014, the museum was awarded $4,000 in City Arts Partnership funding. That is generally consistent with the amount it has received for a number of years. Museum staff has no say in this.
Because this money is taxpayer money, The Arts Partnership’s distributes these dollars as equitably and broadly as possible. Grant amounts range from $500 to $5,500.
Let me be clear: while every dollar counts for nonprofits, these grants in no size, shape or form allow any single organization to rest easy, financially. No organization, including The Arts Partnership, is able to count solely on funding from the three cities to cover all our financial needs.
So, you might be wondering where the other 40 percent of the city dollars goes. It’s all directly and indirectly used by The Arts Partnership in service to advocating and communicating about the arts in our communities, as intended when the city first gave money.
I could do what is so often done when the arts are attacked. I could put my head down and ignore the uneducated remarks, but I am choosing to counter un-researched hysteria with facts and history. Still don’t like that your pennies on the dollar are funding the arts? That’s fine; there are plenty of services I don’t love that my money is supporting either, but I recognize that we elect leaders to make decisions that are in the ultimate best interest of the entire community. I also recognize that the best communities serve the diverse needs of the population with a larger view on being inclusive and forward-thinking, and thanks to the foresight of Fargo city leaders years ago, the arts are a significant piece of that viewpoint.
This article is part of a content partnership with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and originally appeared in the Monday, February 23, 2015, issue of the paper.