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WORTHINGTON -- The Southwest Minnesota Arts and Humanities Council (SMAHC), headquartered in Marshall, is on a mission to give away money.

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Those inspired, creative and motivated enough to outline their hopes and dreams for SMAHC's grant review panels may soon find themselves on the receiving end of funds made available by the Minnesota Arts And Cultural Heritage Fund, as appropriated by the Minnesota State Legislature following the positive public majority vote of Nov. 4, 2008.

"There's a lot of money, and a lot of people want it," expressed Ellen Copperud, the current Nobles County representative on SMAHC's roughly 19-member board.

How much money? For SMAHC's 18 member counties, $420,000 is available for distribution to qualifying organizations and artists by June 30, 2010.

An additional $420,000 may be awarded during the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2010, and ending June 30, 2011.

"It's incredibly exciting to consider the possibilities of all the new kinds of art activities these funds may inspire," offered Greta Murray, executive director of SMAHC.

To put these sums in some perspective, consider that SMAHC's ongoing arts and learning grant program offers a maximum of $4,500 for projects of communities and organizations, and $2,500 for individual artists.

Now, under what is commonly known as the Legacy Grant program, groups may qualify for awards of up to $25,000 and individual career artists may receive as much as $7,500.

According to the "Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund Overview" posted on SMAHC's website, "The Minnesota State Arts Board and Minnesota's designated regional arts councils are entrusted with stewardship of significant new funding through the State of Minnesota's Arts and Cultural Heritage (ACH) Fund. Proceeds from the fund may be spent only on arts and arts access, arts education and arts and cultural heritage. The fund is intended to create a strong arts legacy in Minnesota and will exist for a period of 25 years."

In light of the state's burgeoning budget crisis, this fund allocation is a special boon to the greater arts community, and one they hope won't be taken for granted.

"Like most good things, this may not last, so don't hesitate to apply," exhorted Copperud at one of two grants information sessions held earlier this week in the Worthington High School media center. "Those applying need to make sure they answer the question, 'What will be the long-term impact, or legacy, of this project?'"

The first-round grant application deadline for organizations is March 1 (for projects beginning May 1 or later), and the second-round grant application deadline is May 1 (for projects beginning July 1 or later).

Complete grant application information for organizations and communities is posted on SMAHC's website (www.smahc.org).

The initial grant application deadline for individual career artists is April 1; complete grant application information for individuals will be posted on SMAHC's website no later than March 1, assured Murray.

"I'd really encourage people to call our office and talk to me about their proposed projects," urged Murray. "It would be very frustrating to go through all that work and then find it doesn't fit the criteria, and yet we encourage people to think in new ways.

"Usually, people who work in the arts are strapped for money and time, but with the amount of money available now, they may be able to think a little bigger. Our mission is to promote the arts in this 18-county area, but we need people to come up with ideas appropriate for their communities and for these grants and actually make these projects happen."

Murray and her staff are more than willing to assist interested parties in navigating the application process. One more general information session is planned for 7 p.m. next Thursday at the Rock County Veterans Memorial Building in Luverne, and Murray expects to schedule grant-writing workshops in the near future, as well.

"With all our grants, SMAHC is very accountable, and recipients always submit a final report and review of their projects," explained Murray. "However, with these legacy grants, the reporting and evaluation piece is even more intentional, as the state requests outcome-based reports, and we want both our agency and the recipients to operate in as transparent and accountable a manner as possible."

Panels consisting of six to eight people review grant applications, Murray noted.

"For the individual artist grants, the panelists are either artists themselves or people with a strong expertise in a specific arts discipline," detailed Murray.

Panels reviewing grant requests from organizations or communities may include arts advocates and people with experience in budgeting, business and/or non-profit work.

"We are, in fact, hiring another program person to help educate people in the grant-writing process and to make our programs as accessible as possible," Murray added. "We want to make this process easy and understandable."

The outcome Murray and her colleagues hope to see is an array of vibrant arts activities that reach out to a wide range of people in SMAHC's member counties for many years to come.

"Our goal is for the arts to become an intrinsic part of our communities," stressed Murray. "We want to do as much as we can to make that happen and leave a real legacy."

For more information about the arts Legacy Grants, or for grant applications or deadline dates, contact SMAHC: phone 507-537-1471 or 800-622-5284, e-mail smahcinfo@iw.net, or website www.smahc.org.

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