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CULTURE CLUB: Signs of Hope for Arts Funding

by ANNE KATZ, Director, Create Wisconsin

During the past 20 years, Wisconsin has fallen behind neighboring states – and the rest of the country – in investing in creative people, organizations, businesses and communities.

When it comes to per capita funding for the arts and culture through the state arts agency, the Wisconsin Arts Board, Wisconsin ranked 49th nationally in 2022 at $0.18 per capita in funding. We lag significantly behind Minnesota, which ranks second nationally at $9.65 per capita; and Michigan, at $1.18 per capita.

This lack of investment has been the status quo despite the fact that the creative sector has a $10.8 billion impact and accounts for more than 87,000 jobs in Wisconsin. That’s more than the state’s beer, biotech and papermaking industries, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis and the National Endowment for the Arts. In addition, Wisconsin’s arts and cultural assets are more important than ever as the state and its communities seek to incubate, attract and retain talent – especially young, working-age adults. 

There are signs of hope! First, the growth in arts and creative opportunities, as well as the importance of place and quality of life as development tools, during the past 10 years is notable, even with the difficulties brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Wisconsin’s economy is changing from a mainly manufacturing base to one that is based on small business, entrepreneurship, quality of life and experiences.

The 2023-25 budget that Gov. Tony Evers signed in early July includes a $20 million, one-time appropriation for the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, which will benefit the entire tourism industry, along with increases for the Wisconsin Arts Board: $407,200 GPR (general purpose revenue) in 2023-24 to match federal grant awards through September 2024, and $259,100 in 2024-25 as an ongoing base increase for state aid for the arts. 

This investment means that there will be more money for promoting all tourism, including cultural tourism, in Door County and throughout the state through state and regional networks. And, nonprofit organizations that receive Wisconsin Arts Board funding will see a streamlined process to get funds when they need them.

Throughout the budget process, there was bipartisan support and good visibility for the power, benefit, and economic and civic value of the arts, culture and creativity. The 2023-25 state budget included the first new state investment in the arts and creative economy in several years. It’s a small step, but it’s a great boost for the arts and creative economy statewide in general and for increased investment in Wisconsin’s creative sector.

What Is the Creative Economy?

I talk a lot about the creative economy, but just what does that phrase mean?  

The creative sector – people, organizations, businesses and communities – is a 21st-century industry economic engine. The creative economy refers to the intersection of creativity, skills and talent of individuals and organizations to fuel economic, workforce and civic strength and growth. The creative industry includes film and video, music, performing arts, visual arts, museums, heritage sites, venues, festivals and other cultural events that contribute to the state’s cultural vibrancy and identity.   

In Door County, there is a galaxy of people, businesses, organizations and communities involved in the arts and creativity, making the creative economy hum along.

“​The arts and culture are so critical to Door County’s tourism economy and to the quality of life here because they contribute to the holistic development of ​​the community, fostering creativity, cultural understanding, social connections and individual well-being,” said Julie Gilbert, president and CEO of Destination Door County. “They are not just a form of entertainment; they have the power to bring people together to drive change and improve quality of life for all of us.”

A strong and vibrant creative community will lift Wisconsin through downtown and community revitalization, strategic planning for community cultural growth and sustainability, civic-engagement initiatives and cultural tourism programs.

How Can You Get Involved?

Wisconsin’s Creative Economy Coalition (wisconsincreates.com) was formed in spring 2023 to promote the state’s arts and creative sector, making connections among a vibrant arts scene; economic prosperity; talent incubation, attraction and retention; and access to the arts and creativity for all. 

The first phase in the effort surrounded the biennial budget process after Gov. Evers proposed $100 million in funding for the Wisconsin Artistic Endowment in his budget. Although that proposal was eliminated as a policy item from the process, the work continues.

The coalition is now relaunching its efforts to secure support for the sector, focusing on stand-alone legislation that boosts support and an accompanying public relations and advocacy campaign to make the case statewide. 

In addition, we want to share your stories! As we head into this next exciting phase of the statewide effort to grow funding for the arts and the creative sector, we’re launching Coalition Stories to highlight organizations, businesses and creative leaders throughout Wisconsin by sharing compelling stories that connect their work to the creative economy. Get in touch with Create Wisconsin to recommend one of your stories – or peers who will share their stories – as we progress through the next phase of our effort. Not sure where to start? We’re happy to talk with you to learn more, brainstorm story ideas and draft your story for you to review.

We need your involvement, your stories and your support. Learn more at createwisconsin.org, or email questions, comments and ideas to Create Wisconsin at [email protected].

Anne Katz is the director of Create Wisconsin and is known statewide and nationally as a thought and policy leader for the arts, culture and creativity in Wisconsin.

The Peninsula Arts and Humanities Alliance, which contributes Culture Club, is a coalition of nonprofit organizations that seeks to enhance, promote and advocate the arts, humanities and natural sciences in Door County.