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Imagining and funding the future.

by David Lee on Feb 22, 2021
Imagining and funding the future.

As we imagine the future of Milwaukee and the state, we see a thriving and vibrant region that is powered by the creative forces and the cultural production of our region’s artists, creative workers, and small businesses.

This community of non-profit arts and culture organizations, for-profit creative businesses, and artists and cultural workers is part of a rich creative and cultural tapestry that helps to power Milwaukee and the state, generating $10 billion in state economic impact, representing 3.1% of Wisconsin’s GDP.  

Like all sectors, it requires partnership from state and local government to fully realize and maximize the opportunities before us, especially at a time when we are still battling the effects of a crippling, world-wide pandemic. The Governor’s 2-year $91 billion state budget proposal released last week outlines some key investments in this important partnership that will move our state forward in more fully utilizing our creative assets.

Among these investments will be nearly $30 million in programmatic funding to spur small business development, entrepreneurship, and workforce development through the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). Artists, cultural workers, and for-profit creative businesses in our region should be eligible for these programs as many are independent operators and small businesses in our communities.

The Governor also recommends a $500,000 Creative Economy Development Initiative, which will enable businesses and local governments to support local economic development and workforce training projects through an arts and cultural production lens. These initiatives will be central in re-envisioning our rural and urban communities alike.

The Governor’s budget also provides funding that will allow the Wisconsin Arts Board to receive important federal National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) funding to support arts and cultural groups throughout the state.

While these investments are commendable, the non-profit arts and culture sector in Milwaukee generates over $225 million in annual expenditures; the Governor’s $53,200 statewide two-year match funding represents just .02% of what Milwaukee’s arts and culture community puts into the region. Given how small a percentage this represents for Milwaukee alone, it is no surprise that Wisconsin remains 50th in the nation in public funding for the arts.

Finally, Governor Evers’ proposal to allow local governments to ask the voters for additional revenue streams through city and county sales tax will benefit municipalities everywhere. In Fall 2019, we supported the local sales tax proposal that the Move Forward MKE coalition that included the MMAC, GMC, City and County was working on. This is good news writ large – a thriving arts and culture community needs a thriving region and more local revenue would help to fund many local priorities, especially during this phase of recovery.

With new revenue sources, the City and County should consider developing a partnership on arts and culture. Lack of funding and capacity at the Milwaukee Arts Board and the County Parks Department means that there is no leadership voice representing arts and culture inside government. Because of this, art and culture’s capacity to lead conversations and provide solutions is greatly diminished.  A more fully funded arts and culture office at and city and/or county government level would be able to connect the priorities of city, county, and state government with the non-profit arts and culture organizations that are essential to our civic fabric.

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