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Nonprofit Research on Access to Arts and Culture in Minnesota

February 21st, 2012 by admin Leave a reply »


As part of Philanthropedia’s custom research partnership with Minnesota Philanthropy Partners, we are working to identify expert-recommended high-impact nonprofits that increase access to arts and culture in Minnesota.

Minnesota has a diverse arts eco-system. The state has numerous community arts organizations and large arts institutes, as well as an established system of 11 regional arts councils to help make the arts more reflective of their communities.

Minnesota is a pioneer state in providing funding to the arts sector. In 2008, Minnesota voters passed the Legacy Amendment. The Amendment increases sales tax by three-eighths of one percent to distribute to four funds, including the Arts and Cultural Fund (ACHF)which receives 19.75% of overall Legacy funding.

Despite Minnesota’s demonstrated commitment to the arts and the existing arts infrastructure, many groups are still under-represented in the arts. Organizations across Minnesota are working to address those disparities and MN Partners has asked Philanthropedia to help identify nonprofits having the greatest impact in the field.

Scope of Research

In order to prepare for this research, we spoke with ten experts from key organizations working in the issue area of access to arts and culture in Minnesota. Their insights have helped define the scope of this research. (Thank you to those of you who offered your time and expertise!)

For this research, we are asking experts to recommend up to four nonprofits doing high-impact work across the state of Minnesota, and up to two start-up nonprofits that have the potential to do high-impact work.

In particular we are asking experts to recommend nonprofits that are:

  1. 1. Increasing arts and culture opportunities for populations who don’t have access to the arts
  2. 2. Directly supporting artists
  3. 3. Supporting under-resourced types of arts
  4. 4. Providing opportunities for non-arts people to participate in the arts

1.    Increasing arts and culture opportunities for populations who don’t have access to the arts

The populations least represented in the arts in Minnesota include communities of color, low-income communities, rural communities, immigrant and refugee communities, and people with disabilities. In Minnesota, the largest communities of color are the African American community, the Asian American community, the Native American community and the Latino community. Minnesota is also home to the largest Somali population in the United States[1] and the largest Hmong community in the world outside of Asia[2]. Unique, yet smaller immigrant communities in Minnesota include the largest group of Oromo – an ethnic group from Ethiopia – outside of that country, the second largest group of Tibetans in the U.S., and a concentration of West African refugees from Liberia and Sierra Leone.

While definable barriers such as cost and geographic isolation inhibit access, there are also physiological barriers that keep under-represented communities away from arts opportunities. For example, some individuals may not feel comfortable in arts settings because the work presented is not culturally relevant to them.  In instances like this, lowering some of the more tangible barriers may not result in increasing representation.  Hence, it is important to make the arts accessible in all stages of the process including curation, creation, funding, and evaluation. An example of this kind of inclusion would be if an organization were to develop a performance about traditional Asian narratives written, directed by and featuring Asian Americans.

2.    Directly supporting artists

Traditionally, it has been difficult for artists to earn a living wage for their craft, which can reduce the quantity and quality of art being produced. For this reason, it is important to directly support artists. The McKnight Foundation, a major funder in the arts and culture sphere, has recently shifted toward this strategy to fulfill its mission. Examples of support for artists include paying artists for their work, providing technical assistance to artists as small business owners, and helping communities understand artists’ value and identifying opportunities to collaborate. Therefore, part of this movement is to frame artists as individuals with unique, critical perspectives that can be useful in many facets of community life.

3.    Supporting under-resourced types of arts

Within the arts community, some types of artistic expression are often overlooked. For example community arts or less popular arts disciplines such as political theater, performance art, electronic arts, and video art are often overlooked for funding. Therefore, we decided to include “providing support for under-resourced arts disciplines” as part of our research.

4.    Providing opportunities for non-arts people to participate in the arts

The art world can be intimidating and, at times, exclusive. Many community members may feel that the arts are only accessible to artists or people with a specific arts talent. The experts with whom we spoke believe there is value in connecting people of all skill levels to the arts. And in fact, there is a growing movement to remove this particular stigma from this sector. One example of how one might invite widespread participation is to host a production in which all people who are interested are invited to be part of the show. Another example is to engage individuals as decision makers, empowering audiences and board members to choose what works they would like to see.

Additional Research Details

In addition to the four areas outlined above, we are encouraging experts to consider the following types of organizations when making their recommendations:

  • Traditional arts and culture organizations: theatre, dance, music, visual arts, television, media, and film organizations
  • Funders: organizations that fund nonprofit organizations or artists themselves
  • Policy and advocacy organizations: groups that organize people to support arts in the public policy space
  • Non-arts nonprofits: social service organizations that have an arts component but aren’t primarily arts organizations
  • Units of community education: schools or organizations that teach arts

Additionally, experts are encouraged to consider the following kinds of arts disciplines:

  • Design and architecture
  • Literary arts (comics, literature, poetry)
  • Media arts (Film/Video, new media, interactive computer based virtual art)
  • Performing arts (dance, opera, theatre)
  • Visual arts (ceramics, design, fashion, multi-media, painting, photography, printmaking, sculpture, 3D, 2D, fiber arts)
  • Music (blues, classical, country, electronic, folk, hip hop, international, jazz, rock/pop)

Participation in the Research

Therefore, if you are a nonprofit expert in the field of access to arts and culture in Minnesota, you should have received an email from us with a link to our survey. The survey will be open until mid-March, 2012. We hope you will share your perspective and insights! If for some reason we have missed you and you think you have a valuable perspective to offer, please contact Jasmine Marrow at, and we would love to send the survey to you to include your insights.

Additionally, we invite your feedback and thoughts about how you might frame this type of work. For those readers less familiar with this topic, we hope you learned something new and will check in again when we have the results of this research. Thank you all for your participation!

Learn more about arts, culture and access in Minnesota:

The Legacy Amendment


[1] The McKnight Foundation “Immigrant Gateway: Framing the Issue” accessed in Feb 2006 at and League of Women Voters and Minnesota’s Education Fund.  “Immigration in MN: Changing Faces Changing Communities.” Accessed February 2006 at:

[2] Fettig, David and Rolnick, Arthur J. “Credit Availability: A snapshot of the Hmong business community in Minneapolis and St. Paul.”  Accessed in Feb 2006 at:



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