St. Paul, Minn. — The Associated Press reports that last year the Minnesota State Arts Board issued more than $108,000 in arts grants to North Dakota arts groups.
Most of these groups are located in the Fargo-Moorhead area, including the Fargo-Moorhead Opera Company, the Fargo-Moorhead Community Theater, the Trollwood Performing Arts School, and the Plains Art Museum.
Arts Board Executive Director Robert Booker is somewhat dismayed by the report. He says the funding relationship with North Dakota dates back more than 17 years, and is the only state where such a relationship exists. Booker says Moorhead, Minnesota residents regularly take the block-and-a-half trip across the bridge to take advantage of the Fargo art scene.
"We're looking at supporting arts activities for Minnesota children, Minnesota families, Minnesota citizens," Booker says. "We're not looking at shipping bucketloads of money across state lines, we're looking at supporting access for Minnesotans."
Booker says when analyzing the situation, it's important to view Fargo and Moorhead not as two distinct communities, but as one metro area, shared by people from both states.
We're not looking at shipping bucketloads of money across state lines, we're looking at supporting access for Minnesotans.
"Truly, it is a community that serves both sides of the river. The Plains Art Museum, when I started in this business, was located in Minnesota. Then they moved their operation to North Dakota," says Booker. "We have Trollwood Performing Arts, which just received funding from the Legislature, not through our office by any means, but bonding money from the Legislature, to build a brand new facility in Minnesota. So indeed, even the organizations have had a history of moving back and forth across the border."
The cross-border funding relationship isn't a one-way street. Some Moorhead arts groups receive funding from North Dakota, although the amount is significantly less because the state's committment to arts funding isn't as generous as Minnesota's.
Booker says that committment took a hit when lawmakers agreed to cut state arts funding by 30 percent this past session. He says all organizations supported by the Arts Board, including those in North Dakota, will see a commensurate decrease in their allocation.
Groups such as the Minnesota Taxpayers League say funding North Dakota arts organizations is utterly outrageous and absurd. But State Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, calls it sound economic policy.
"It makes no sense for there to be a Moorhead Opera Company or a Moorhead symphony and a Fargo opera and symphony. You do those things together," Lanning says. "Same is true with art museums and many other arts organizations. Therefore, if they're serving Minnesota residents it's entirely proper and appropriate for Minnesota taxpayers to provide support."
At Atomic Coffee in Moorhead, patrons had varied views on Minnesota's funding of North Dakota arts groups.
"Nothing wrong with sharing resources across the state line, I believe," said one man. "I work with people with developmental disabilities and we sometimes share resources across the river. So I don't see why arts should be any different."
A woman dropping by for her morning java was less keen on sharing.
"If it's set up for Minnesota it should stay in Minnesota -- North Dakota, get their own money!" she said.
"I don't see a problem with it," said another male patron. "We are a regional hub. Trollwood's moving to Minnesota so some North Dakota money might follow that."
Some people are worried about what may follow the report. Rep. Lanning acknowledges it may become a political football at the state Capitol. He says if that happens it will be short-sighted, bad public policy, and economically damaging to arts groups which add to the quality of life in the Fargo-Moorhead area.
(Minnesota Public Radio's Bob Reha contributed to this report)