Wisconsin’s Underfunded Arts Programs

Brian Kelsey, executive director of Peninsula Players Theatre in Fish Creek, who also chairs the Wisconsin Arts Board, looks longingly at states such as Minnesota.

In 2008, Minnesota voters passed the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment to the Minnesota Constitution, which increased the state sales tax by three-eighths of 1%, with 33% of that going to the clean-water fund, 33% to the outdoor-heritage fund, 19.75% to the arts and cultural-heritage fund, and 14.25% to the parks and trails fund. 

The arts and cultural-heritage fund’s share under this formula was $73 million in fiscal year 2022 alone.

In truth, however, Kelsey could look longingly at every other state in the nation because Wisconsin ranks dead last in the country in the amount of money flowing from legislative and line-item appropriations to state arts agencies, according to the “State Arts Agency Revenues” report for fiscal year 2023 from the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies. 

Dead last looks like 14 cents per capita (the total funding divided by the total population). First in the nation by this measure is $12.22 per capita. Minnesota is No. 3 in the nation for state funding for the arts ($7.62 per capita).

Gov. Tony Evers’ recently released 2023-25 budget promises $552,500 of increased funding for the Wisconsin Arts Board. Although welcome, that appropriation “just keeps us whole,” Kelsey said, to make the state’s funding match for National Endowment for the Arts grants. 

The big and historic difference that Evers has made in this budget, according to Kelsey, is the $100 million that Evers has designated for the Wisconsin Artistic Endowment Foundation. Interest earnings generated from the funds would be used to support arts across the state. 

“It’s so great to see a budget with support for the arts,” Kelsey said.

There’s still a long way to go before the state Assembly and Senate act on the new, 2023-25 biennium budget by July 1, the official start of the state’s new fiscal year. Until then, the Wisconsin Arts Board encourages people to ask their state legislators to support Evers’ arts priorities. 

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