Milwaukee Business Journal: Arts leaders form coalition to seek $100 million state investment

Margaret Naczek | May 3, 2023

Arts organizations throughout the state have come together to create Wisconsin's Creative Economy Coalition dedicated to securing a $100 million one-time funding investment from Gov. Tony Evers' biennial state budget.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Wisconsin ranks last across 50 states in statewide arts funding. The state spends just 14 cents per capita to fund state arts organizations. In comparison, Wisconsin's neighbor Minnesota spends $7.34 and Illinois $5.04.

Perhaps related to this lack of state funding, the state's creative sector also is not growing at the same pace as the nation. National data found the economic impact of the creative sector nationally increased 14.43% while in Wisconsin that increase was 8.44%. Wisconsin's art sector supports almost 90,000 jobs and provides $10.8 billion in economic impact.

A projected $7.1 billion budget surplus prompted the arts coalition's work to attempt and secure the one-time, $100 million investment.

“Wisconsin has developed some of the nation’s leading cultural institutions that are truly transforming the communities where they exist – places like Racine, Eau Claire, Appleton, Madison and Milwaukee. The future for these organizations continues to be fragile as private funding alone cannot keep up with rising costs. If we want these and all of Wisconsin’s creative hubs to be vibrant and here for future generations, investment needs to be made now before arts sector talent leaves our state," the United Performing Arts Fund president Patrick Rath said in a press release.

UPAF board chair Scott Beightol, a partner for Michael Best & Friedrich LLP, said what makes this coalition so impactful is its wide interests and backgrounds. Organizations in the coalition span the state and offer a variety of artistic mediums including museums, visual arts programs and performing arts. He said the great value in creating the arts coalition is that all of these diverse groups are now talking to each other and advocating for themselves.

Beightol described talks with legislators as "encouraging" and said the effort focuses more on economic development impact than in the past.

"We are articulating perhaps a little differently than in the past, more of an economic development," he said, "a way to build the talent pipeline, a way to make Wisconsin as attractive as possible for that young worker who is thinking of staying in the state or coming to the state."

Local Milwaukee institutions that are part of the coalition are: the Milwaukee Art Museum, Marcus Performing Arts Center, Kids from Wisconsin, Imagine MKE, Florentine Opera, First Stage Children's Theatre, Danceworks MKE, Civic Music Association of Milwaukee, Concord Chamber Orchestra, Black Arts MKE, ArtWorks for Milwaukee, Bel Canto Chorus, Milwaukee Artist Resource Network, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Milwaukee Youth Arts Center, Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra, Organic Arts, Present Music, Renaissance Theaterworks, United Performing Arts Fund and Wisconsin Conservatory of Music.

CLICK HERE to view this story in the Milwaukee Business Journal website.