Cultural Trust – Redistributing Wealth Missouri Style!

So when we at the Springfield Symphony (Missouri’s 3rd largest Orchestra) read the news last week regarding the ruling against the Kansas City Symphony’s lawsuit to restore funds into the cultural trust that were not put in during a certain period as the legislature felt the money at that time was needed elsewhere, our reaction was : Oh that’s right they filed a lawsuit! We had forgotten about it. Arts funding in Missouri has risen the last two years….under a Republican governor! I have a little insight into what happened and some personal experience with the whole thing including some interaction with the governor….

Firstly, the Missouri Cultural Trust is a funding initiative that withholds 2% from the fee of every visiting performer and sports person to help support arts and sports programming in the state. It is distributed by the Missouri Arts Council through grants. In addition, when it was implemented part of the program encouraged arts organizations to raise additional funds from their donors to be put in the trust with the state offering a 50% match, so if 100k was raised the state matched with an additional 50K and so we would every year get 5% of the total amount, which we still do, although our principal amount is now held by our Community Foundation, so we get a check from them and one from the state. This is in addition to any grant we might get from the arts council.

The bone of contention was that for a period of time no money from the collected withholding was put into the cultural trust. Instead the money was diverted to other state projects, and the legislature decided that even though the “promise” was for the money to go towards the arts (and sports), it was not guaranteed and so lawfully it could be redistributed to to other projects on an as needed basis. There was mostly angst and anger over this especially since the arts actually convinced their own donors to invest into the trust, with the argument that the state would then always give it back to the arts. We were all somewhat concerned that our donors would lose trust in us!

The KCSO which earns way may more than we do from trust took the angst one step further and filed suit to restore the amounts that were not put in which on the surface implied that they were filing suit on behalf of all of us, because they were talking about the whole amount. They lost and have now appealed. There is a back story to this:

It was a very interesting day in January 2006 when the statewide arts groups gathered in Jefferson City for the yearly lobbying day, a week after the suit was filed!

During the first gathering when we were all together, there were speeches, pitch points as well as strategies that were outlined. Yet down the front someone arose to ask the question about the proverbial elephant in the room, that being the KCSO lawsuit, and what should we say to lawmakers we were meeting that day, if it comes up. The answer was pretty much, try not to let it come up, and skirt is as best we could. There was no strategy because it had literally just happened! There was some sense of anger toward the KCSO (there was no KCSO representative there) because of the potential to make the legislature angry meaning we could all suffer because of their action. To the best of my knowledge, none of us were contacted to get involved with the lawsuit, or even to write letters of support.

In hindsight, I believe the KCSO actually helped us all by keeping us out of it, (whether inadvertently or not) marginalizing the issue and making themselves the focus. This meant that if it would ever come up, we could accurately say, that we were not involved, and we were proactive writing a letter to our representatives to say that we were never contacted by them.

It never actually came up, hence why we forgot about the lawsuit. Interestingly enough, a compromise with the state was reached which is why the principal amount funded by our donors was transferred to our community foundation meaning the interest would always be paid and our donors would see that their contributions were never subject to a legislative ruling. The state still holds the matching amount in the trust, and they have been paying on that. The other thing is that after a couple of good years, the money given to the Missouri Arts Council to distribute has increased dramatically and so have our allocations.

There are a few things at play here. It was the KC Symphony’s prerogative to file suit although I wouldn’t have advocated for that. We simply re-doubled our efforts into building our Orchestra as a community service organization. Not once have we had to talk about the lawsuit with anybody, and before all of this happened we were able to meet with governor and have developed a relationship with him.

Matt Blunt meets with us
Matt Blunt meets with us

Matt Blunt (who is not running for another term) is from Springfield. A String group from the orchestra played at his inauguration. In late 2005 he invited an ensemble from the orchestra along with the Springfield Ballet to perform some Nutcracker excerpts at his first state dinner, and whilst in Jefferson City to work out the logistics of the space, Janice Bennett (our ED) and myself were able to meet with him. As he is from Springfield and we had a lively discussion about the arts and how we wanted to improve our (his) community. He was very engaged and said he believed in the benefit of a strong arts community. For two consecutive years he attended the opening night of the Springfield Nutcracker and spoke prior to curtain, and last December his office called us to tell us he would be attending our Holiday Pops. We invited him to speak, and he gave a heartfelt speech about the importance of the arts. I last saw him two weeks ago, at my wife’s church, and he told me he wanted to check out our concert schedule!

Now I am not taking any credit here, but the fact that the Governor is interested in the arts, attends arts events, and speaks as to the imprtance of the arts, and then recommends a huge increase in state arts funding which the legislature voted for (less than the full amount he asked for though), suggests that the KCSO lawsuit has had no detrimental effect.

Not that I am disparaging the KCSO, they are a terrific Orchestra on a real upswing with a new hall opening soon. I just believe that if the legislature feels that money for the arts is optional, it is all of us collectively that need to bear some of the blame because obviously we have not closed the argument on the importance of the arts. That is what we need to lobby for, so that we can be included in health and human services, which is not an option, but a necessity!

4 thoughts on “Cultural Trust – Redistributing Wealth Missouri Style!”

  1. Hey Ron, interesting post. I had heard of Gov. Blunt’s efforts on behalf of the arts a few months back, but was unaware that his interest was this keen. Great stuff. Hopefully the next Governor will be as engaged…Blunt will be missed.

  2. Thanks, Ron and I agree about focusing on advocacy for arts as a quality of life factor along with the tangible factors of health and human service. Question: I didn’t realize that some of the allocated interest from the trust was to go to sports programming as well. Just out of curiosity, do you know if sports programming got funding during the “dry” years?

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