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Arts groups seek bonding money
By Laura McCallum
Minnesota Public Radio
January 4, 2002

When Minnesota lawmakers converge on the Capitol at the end of January for the 2002 legislative session, one of their main agenda items is crafting a bonding bill. They'll winnow down more than $2 billion worth of requests for building projects. Among them is more than $140 million in requests for new or renovated arts buildings. Arts groups argue their building projects should be included in the state's priority list. But they'll face tough scrutiny from lawmakers and Gov. Ventura. We tagged along to hear a couple of arts organizations make their pitch to legislators.

The Children's Theatre Company rendition of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" is a favorite show in December. The CTC has been wooing lawmakers, hoping its request for $12 million will make it into the state bonding bill during the upcoming legislative session.
(Photo courtesy of Children's Theatre Company)


It's organized chaos at the Children's Theatre Company. School kids bounce in their seats and peek in the orchestra pit, excitedly awaiting the start of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." Meanwhile, legislators and their staff tour backstage and the dressing rooms. They're members of the Senate Capital Investment Committee, which will put together the Senate's bonding bill. CTC Artistic Director Peter Brosius wryly points to a problem needing fixing.

"The orchestra pit has a life of its own! It sort of just goes up and down periodically. It's possessed! So we're going to do an exorcism," he laughs. "It's actually a real safety issue, because by dropping two inches, you could twist an ankle."

The CTC plans to fix the possessed orchestra pit, and other problems, with a $24 million renovation and expansion project. It's asking the Legislature to fund half. CTC staff tell legislators they're forced to turn children away because they don't have enough space. They stress that the CTC is the only children's theatre company of its kind in the country. The CTC also wants to build more classrooms for an education center, a rehearsal space, and a 300-seat second theatre for children in the 12-18 year-old range.

The money would also help sustain the theatre's touring program. The company recently performed "Grimm Tales" at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn.

Backstage, the actors prepare to make their grand entrance. They seem just as excited as the audience, but their faces betray a hint of fatigue.

"I was thinking the other day, by the time this is over, I will have stayed in 42 different hotel rooms, " says Jamilia Anderson, who is on her first tour with the Children's Theatre Company.

She's been on the road with the CTC for three months now. That's 22 communities in Minnesota, plus venues in eight other Midwestern states.

"For these kids, this will be an experience they'll never forget. And they're so excited when they see you after the show," says Anderson. "They just want to talk to you so bad, but they're afraid. It's fun to talk to the kids and say 'Hi, we're just regular people.' That rejuvenates you after the 50-somethingith show."

The theatre's Managing Director Teresa Eyring says tours actually lose the company money, but they're important in developing a sense for the arts in outstate areas. Teachers and parents in St. Peter agree with that goal.

Pam Stucco works for the St. Peter school district. Like the CTC, the district struggles to break even when funding an event like this. According to Stucco, it's well worth it.

CTC Artistic Director Peter Brosius says there is such demand that the theatre sometimes has to turn children away. The CTC wants to build more classrooms, rehearsal space, and a second theatre.
(MPR Photo/Rob Schmitz)

"There's nothing like a live performance," Stucco says. "The energy the actors bring on stage - and for students to witness this wonderful energy - is just a priceless thing to the community, so we're very invested in keeping this."

Stucco and a colleague coordinate Children's Theatre performances at a local level by enlisting volunteers to help organize and promote the show. They begin working a year in advance.

At that same time, Children's Theatre sends materials and lesson plans to the school district. These help teachers educate their students about the history, culture and stories presented by the theatre. When cast and crew arrive to town, they'll meet these students for acting workshops. Sometimes local high school students are invited, too.

It's this type of investment in Minnesota communities that arts analyst Neil Cuthbert thinks will make the Children's Theatre bond request successful. Cuthbert manages the McKnight Foundation's arts giving. It currently gives the Children's Theatre $100,000 per year.

He says he's intrigued at the attention given to the potential loss of the Minnesota Twins, and wonders what it would be like if the shoe were on another foot.

"It would be interesting to have one of these large institutions like CTC say to the city, 'Well, we got an offer from Nashville. We got somebody who wants to move us there and buy us a theatre for $50 million. What can the community pony up?' That would kind of snap a few heads back, I think."

Lawmakers who toured the Children's Theatre complex in Minneapolis seem receptive to the CTC's request. State Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, graduated from the neighboring Minneapolis College of Art and Design. She calls the CTC an important resource for the entire state. The CTC's Director of Institutional Advancement, Patrick Dewane, says he thinks the Legislature will look favorably on the project.

"The number one purpose of the state of Minnesota is the education of its citizenry. And education's at the core of what we do," says Dewane. "The governor and the Legislature have made it clear that bonding projects have to have statewide significance. And we believe with our 16 years in a row of touring, and the different partnerships that we have, the residency we have in Montevideo, that we've got a pretty good case there too. But it's for the Legislature to decide, really," he says.

"It would be interesting to have one of these large institutions like CTC say to the city, 'Well, we got an offer from Nashville. We got somebody who wants to move us there and buy us a theatre for $50 million. What can the community pony up?' "

- Arts analyst Neil Cuthbert


The senators barely have time to contemplate the CTC request before it's on to the next stop on the bonding tour - the Guthrie Theater.

"This is the green room - this is where the actors wait, hang out. Sometimes they're green, sometimes they're not," explains the tour guide, Director of Theater Operations David Russell.

Russell shows the legislators the prop department, and lets them walk on the Guthrie's signature thrust stage. One senator says with some reverance that he's always wanted to stand on the stage of the Guthrie. Then it's time for Guthrie officials to make their case. They have one of the biggest arts requests - they want $35 million for a new theater complex on the banks of the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis.

"This project that we have before us is an incredibly ambitious one. We recognize that," says Artistic Director Joe Dowling. But he says the Guthrie has simply outgrown its current building.

"It is not possible for us to grow and to expand - in the way that I believe a world class theater of this sort needs to grow - in this facility."

The pitch is carefully placed. Board president Charlie Zelle tells lawmakers the Guthrie is prepared to break ground in the summer. He says an economic study estimated the project would create about 1,500 jobs a year for the next two years.

Both comments are clearly designed to score points with certain legislators. Senate DFL leaders view the bonding bill as a way to stimulate the state's lagging economy, particularly if some projects can get underway this year. Zelle also thanked the Senate for its support of the Guthrie two years ago. Gov. Ventura vetoed $3 million for the theater in the 2000 bonding bill. The Legislature overrode his veto. Zelle says the Guthrie is coming to the state with a much stronger request this time.

"And what has been different than two years ago - when we were making a proposal - is that we now have a site, we have a campaign, we'll have a design, and we're ready to start building. So I feel very optimistic," Zelle says.

The Guthrie has been aggressively fundraising in the private sector, and will announce the results next month.

French architect Jean Nouvel, who designed the expansion of the Lyon Opera House (pictured above), has been chosen to design the Guthrie's new three-theater complex along the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis. The Guthrie is asking the state for $35 million in bonding to help pay for the project.
(Photo courtesy of Guthrie Theater)


When Ventura vetoed the Guthrie funding two years ago, he argued the state needs to see local commitments ensuring a project's viability before the state puts up any money. But Ventura has also been generally skeptical of state funding for the arts. That hasn't changed, according to spokesman John Wodele.

"He hasn't made any decisions, but he hasn't been real receptive to arts projects in the past, to entertainment projects in general - whether it be stadiums for sports venues or for theater or other entertainment," Wodele says.

Some Capitol observers say they won't be at all surprised if Ventura doesn't include any arts projects in his bonding recommendation, which he'll release by mid-January. Then it will be up to legislators to argue for projects they support.

Other arts requests include $70 million for a new Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul, $10 million for the Shubert Theatre in Minneapolis, and money for new arts facilities in Bloomington, Moorhead and Rochester. They'll be competing for funding against requests from prisons, colleges and universities and state agencies. Rep. Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud, chairs the House Capital Investment Committee. He believes the Legislature has to first take care of the leaky roofs in state-owned buildings.

"We've got to make sure that we're doing a job of meeting the state's needs with those sorts of projects," Knoblach says. "After we're done taking those sorts of projects, I think we can consider things like the arts and other grants to units of government."

In Knoblach's words, the state can't build a theater in every town. Arts lobbyist Larry Redmond is going to try to persuade Knoblach and other legislators that arts projects deserve inclusion in the bonding bill.

"I think it's become very, very clear to the Legislature and others, including people in the administration, that these cultural projects are a pretty good deal. There are not many facets of our society where the state, literally, only has to put in a little bit to make the thing go," says Redmond.

But Redmond's been around at the Capitol long enough to realize that some tough fights lie ahead. the bottom line is - the bigger the bonding bill, the more likely it is that some arts projects will be included.

MPR's Rob Schmitz also contributed to this story

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