Minnesota's new rock star: Legacy funding

CHRIS RIEMENSCHNEIDER | Updated 10/21/2013

The state’s $50-million-plus annual arts ­fund is amping up the local music scene.

Brother Ali stars in the second episode of TPT's "Lowertown Line," funded with Legacy money and airing Oct. 31.
Jeff Wheeler

When the cameras turned off after his “Lower­town Line” TV taping in May, Brother Ali thanked his band members and his hosts at Twin Cities Public ­Television for the new local-music showcase.

The Minnesota hip-hop star neglected one key player, however: the state's Legacy Amendment, which paid for the elaborate TV production.

“There was always the desire but never the money to do this kind of a series before,” said TPT executive producer Diane Steinbach. “The Legacy money is absolutely the reason we’re able to do it now.”

Public funding once was a foreign concept in hip-hop, rock and other music genres more commonly seen in clubs than theaters or arts centers. But from “The Lowertown Line” — which returns Oct. 31 with the Ali episode — to such clubs as the Cedar Cultural Center and public radio's the Current (89.3 FM), the music realm that was once the redheaded stepchild of arts funding is feeling some Legacy love.

Approved by Minnesota ­voters in 2008, the Legacy Amendment increased the state sales tax by three-eighths of a percent for the next ­quarter century to support outdoors, natural resources and arts projects. The Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund receives 19.75 percent of the total ­Legacy takeaway each year. That has amounted to $200 million in the past four years.

Before that, “anything not part of the ‘fine arts’ world would often get left out,” said Ellen Stanley, the musician and publicist who now heads the Minnesota Music Coalition. Legacy funding, she said, “has validated musicians as an important part of the arts community, and made musicians proud to live in Minnesota.”

Rock around the state

Using $88,000 in Legacy money for touring arts ­programs in 2011, the coalition launched Caravan du Nord, an annual series of nighttime ­concerts and daytime workshops in outstate cities. This year's program kicked off last weekend at the Paramount Theatre in Austin, with a concert by the Cactus Blossoms and Charlie Parr.

“It’s bringing a little Minnesota Nice to a pretty harsh industry,” said Parr, an acclaimed acoustic blues/folk picker. “Music lovers in Minnesota get more music, and musicians get to collaborate and benefit from one another’s experiences.”

Although the MMC has received other funding for the Caravan, Stanley said, “The Legacy funding has been ­crucial.”

You will hear similar statements at such nonprofit local music institutions as the Current and the Cedar Cultural Center.

An all-ages live-music venue in the heart of Minneapolis’ Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, the Cedar has received $223,000 from the Legacy fund since 2010, including $54,500 in 2011 directed to East African music programs.

The Current has pulled from a broader cache of Legacy money granted to its parent organization, Minnesota Public Radio — about $1.5 million annually — to fund its Local Current projects in recent years, which include a 24-hour all-Minnesota audio stream on its website, a blog, live events and the weekly on-air “Local Show.”

“It’s been huge for us,” ­Current program director Jim McGuinn said. “It’s allowed us to discover and promote Minnesota musicians not just around the state, but now the world, thanks to [online] streaming.”

Getting better at asking?

As part of the Current’s application to the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund this year — Legacy hopefuls must pitch their projects every two years — the station presented a timeline on local hip-hop trio the Chalice. It traced the group’s rise in popularity to Legacy-funded Local Current projects, starting with the first airing of the group's song “Push It” and ending with an appearance at the Current’s all-local birthday bash at Minneapolis club First Avenue in January.