In 2010, budget for supporting the arts in Wisconsin was slashed by 70%. Wisconsin now ranks number 47 out of 50 states in its commitment to supporting the arts.
Put in other terms, this state spends 13 cents per person on the arts. Our kindly neighbor to the west, Minnesota, spends $6 and change per person, giving the rank of #1. Yup, highest support for the arts, per capita, in the nation.
I feel it, as a writer. When I lived in Minneapolis, attending the University of Minnesota's MFA program, there seemed to be no end to the opportunities to interact with the creative writing and visual arts. Art crawls, spoken word, poetry / fiction / nonfiction / etc readings and classes at the Loft Literary Center, theater, dance forums...the list goes on. I listened, participated, tutored kids. There were lists of funding opportunities to which I could apply. I felt supported and proud to be an artist. Everywhere I looked, creative expression had a solid stage.
Then, I moved one hour to the east...and it all went away. Now, granted, I had been in a major city and in graduate school. I knew that level of activity could not be sustained in a small, rural town, even one with a university. But it wasn't just that. State level grants? Nope. Readings? Other than the Chippewa Valley Book Festival, not really. The Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets stands as one of the very few organizations available to allow writers to commune.
It's not that there aren't arts in Wisconsin. I have met talented artists in a variety of media as I've moved throughout this state. The passion for and commitment to the arts here in the Northwoods, where there is a predominate retired population, is nonetheless invigorating. There are pockets. There is even a bit of a groundswell. But, oh, how much better it could be if the state embraced the encouraging, rejuvenating, communicating, challenging, and celebratory powers that are the arts.