WORTHINGTON - The Southwest Minnesota Arts Council, Minnesota Citizens for the Arts and Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center hosted an “Advocate for the Arts” Friday evening to garner support for arts funding in southwest Minnesota.

Representatives from each organization, as well as District 22 Sen. Bill Weber, presented information and heard concerns from attendees. The event drew a diverse crowd, with attendees representing the Worthington Area Symphony Orchestra, Minnesota West Community and Technical College, the Plum Creek Library System, Nobles County Arts Center, District 518 Community Education, the Palace Theater in Luverne and the Green Earth Players. Minnesota Citizens for the Arts (MCA) representative Andrea Lovoll explained that the state Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund was established under Minnesota’s Legacy Amendment in 2009 and will last for 25 years. The amendment raised state sales tax by three-eighths of one percent during the established time period.

Of the revenue collected, 19.75 percent goes into the Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund. That fund allows organizations like the Southwest Minnesota Arts Council (SMAC) to award grants for arts and culture projects in local areas.

Memorial Auditorium, for example, recently received a grant to install additional lighting equipment. Technical Director Mark Brodin gave a demonstration of the equipment Friday and described its impact.

“We are giving students in southwest Minnesota exposure to the kind of equipment they would see in the professional world,” Brodin said. In essence, he added, arts funding can help prepare students for careers.

Lovoll further demonstrated the economic impact of arts funding by sharing statistics found by an MCA study over the last decade, through 2017.

Attendance at arts and culture events in southwest Minnesota increased by 71 percent for a total of 139,551 attendees in 2017. Jobs supported by arts and culture increased by 204 percent for a total of 210 jobs. Money brought into the economy from arts and culture increased by 230 percent to reach $6.6 million in 2017. Government revenue generated from arts and culture increased by 175 percent, coming to $617,000 in 2017.

Lovoll concluded that “Minnesota is the epicenter of the arts and culture in the Midwest” and nationwide ranks third to San Francisco and New York City.

Memorial Auditorium Managing Director Tammy Makram displayed a chart showing grants awarded to the auditorium since 1994 totaling over $133,000. Additionally, SMAC has given $169,595 in grants for regional projects just since July 2015. Makram explained that these funds help people build confidence and leadership skills through involvement in arts, music and theater.

SMAC Executive Director Nicole DeBoer credited the community for the council’s impact, noting that grants can only be given because people take the lead in bringing arts to the community. Each grant proposal is carefully screened to ensure the project is not-for-profit and budgeted appropriately. DeBoer said that people in southwest Minnesota are willing to do the work of planning and carrying out community projects - they have the passion and industry required, and lack only funding to make projects happen.

Weber, R-Luverne, is the vice chair of the Minnesota Senate Environment and Natural Resources and Legacy Finance Committee. In this role, he’s responsible for helping distribute funding from the state Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.

Weber projects about $39 million available statewide from the fund in fiscal year 2019, and he pledged to work hard to get southwest Minnesota the same allotment of that money as it has in the past.

“It’s about getting money to the programs the people themselves actually want to have,” Weber said.

He promised to represent to his Senate colleagues the interest in - and need for - arts programs and projects present in southwest Minnesota.

People who would like to get involved in efforts to retain arts funding are invited to attend Arts Advocacy Day, hosted by Minnesota Citizens for the Arts. The event is set for  8 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 12 at the Minnesota History Center and the State Capitol Complex in St. Paul. Interested parties may pre-register online at artsmn.org by Mar. 8.