About The Author

David Grabitske

David Grabitske is the manager of outreach services at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul, Minnesota.

A Minnesota Legacy Grant Recommendation has been put forth by the Minnesota History Coalition  – a consortium of history-related organizations.  This recommendation covers the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund – one piece of the Legacy Grant pie.


The Coalition’s recommendation is a significant document as it demonstrates a working consensus among the representatives of these organizations – and they all deserve credit for that work. My sense is that this document will carry some weight with legislators.


We all have many questions about the Legacy Grant – questions for which there is not yet an answer. To the extent that this is time to get all ideas out on the table before it’s too late – I’d like to address two issues regarding the Legacy Grant funding.


Geographic/Economic Equity – The Legacy Grant is an opportunity to enable under funded county historical societies and underserved areas of the state to become better equipped for preservation of their history. There are many rural county historical societies (I’m thinking of Lincoln County in southwestern Minnesota) that aren’t as active due to little or no county support and that miss out on opportunities provided by the legacy grant to preserve their county’s history. County historical societies with limited staff do not have the ability to research and write grants, lobby for funding, lobby for preservation, etc…. They are too busy worrying about covering their next insurance payment or fixing the leaky roof. Consequently, their history is being lost.


I would like to see some of the legacy funds earmarked for those areas and organizations that lie in economically stressed areas where funding for historical societies and historic preservation is minimal. One solution may be to offer these counties a dollar for dollar matching grant for use in funding their county historical society or other bona fide historic preservation organization.


Deciding who gets what? – We know that the amendment gives the legislature the authority to make spending decisions. But we also know the legislature is not going to review and recommend individual projects. So who will?  I believe an independent council should be established similar to the Lessard Outdoor Heritage Council. This council, legislatively approved and containing eight citizens and four legislators, will make recommendations to lawmakers about spending the Outdoor Heritage Fund – another piece of the Legacy Amendment pie. More information on this council can be found in Minnesota Statute 97A.056.


Kurt Kragness

Executive Director

Sherburne History Center

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15 Responses to Equity and Decisions for Legacy Fund

  1. Todd Mahon says:

    Thanks for getting the discussion going on this, Kurt.

    For those that are interested, the recommendation from the Minnesota History Coalition can be found on the Minnesota Alliance for Local History Museum’s web site here: http://www.minnesotahistorymuseums.org/legacyact2.pdf

    A talking points memo on the recommendation can be found here: http://www.minnesotahistorymuseums.org/legacyact1.pdf


  2. Kurt, I really like your idea of earmarking money for county historical societies that do not get county support, as a tool for perhaps getting some. Every county deserves a Sherburne County Historical Society!

    I’m also intrigued by you suggestion that the grants be administered by a separate board. I would love to participate in such a thing myself.

    We’ll have to see what the legislature does with all of this.


  3. Karen Danks says:

    As the director of a historical museum in one of those low funded areas I can fully recognize the potential that the additional funding would allow. With our location and non financial resources we could do wonders for not only our county but help reach out to surrounding counties too. While we are generally able to “double our income” with grants, our county allotment barely covers the utility bill and after that priority goes towards basic operating expenses – not preservation – and even our smallest educational programs involve digging up donations to cover every expense. Our areas history is slipping away while we expend ourselves chasing for money to simply keep the doors open.


  4. Mary Warner says:

    While I, too, appreciate the fact that representatives from the state’s history community gathered together to come to a consensus on how Legacy Amendment funding should be used, and that showing a united front to legislators is important, I am concerned about creating yet another competitive situation between smaller historical societies through putting a portion of the funding into a grant program. I understand that this is the most expeditious method of dealing with the funding for local history organizations, but the issues raised by Kurt about under-funded organizations not having the time or resources to compete for funding are valid.

    As for Kurt’s idea about an independent council, I have a couple of thoughts. Is anyone familiar with the state’s regional arts councils? The Minnesota State Arts Board and McKnight Foundation provide funding for arts grants that are distributed through 11 regional arts councils. http://www.arts.state.mn.us/racs/ Every area of the state is covered, with representation on each council from every county within a particular region. Setting up a separate system for regional history councils would likely be cost prohibitive, but the regional arts council system is an effective one to examine for ideas.

    My other thought isn’t original to me, but comes from someone else. What about involving county boards in some way in the distribution of funds? Because the Legacy Amendment funding is earmarked for a particular purpose, county boards would be duty-bound to distribute it for that intended purpose.

    Just throwing those ideas into the mix for further consideration. (If only we’d had more time to figure this out!)


  5. Concepts for Consideration
    Legacy Tax Distribution
    16 March 2009

    RCHS endorses the MN History Coalition recommendations with one exception: the final bullet point on the administration of the grant money.

    First, I would develop two categories of historical organizations by budget size:
    (large organization is already addressed with the 45% designated for MHS)
    1) Medium budget-sized organizations
    2) Small budget-sized organizations

    Second, I believe the matching grant requirement is too difficult to meet form many of the historical organization and becomes an insurmountable burden.

    Third, I propose an annual flat grant based on percent of budget size, with minimum and maximum payments in terms of outright dollar amounts. (smaller budgets would receive a larger percent of their budget). This grant could be used for capacity building or for projects, as need dictated.

    This could be compared to the evolution of the state hockey tournament structure. This system was changed to allow smaller teams to compete on a state wide basis, eliminating the previous system where the same teams kept winning year after year – by sheer size of their student body.

    1) Fairness: this flat grant would cover nearly all historical organizations regardless of size.
    2) Consistency: what historical organizations need badly is a consistent source of revenue that each can plan on receiving every year (give or take the economic vitality). This not only builds capacity, but it allows for emergency and other projects needs.
    3) No new bureaucratic layer of administration: This would be less costly in terms of administration than specific grant applications. We do not need another layer of bureaucracy. Each organization would submit its budget on an annual basis. Small organizations often do not have the capacity for the cumbersome application process of the current MHS re-granting process.
    4) The key issue of which organizations would be considered each year, could be reviewed and up-dated every five years. Here I would see convening a citizen’s advisory board.

    Respectfully submitted,

    Priscilla Farnham
    Ramsey County Historical Society


  6. I concur with Priscilla’s “flat rate” proposal for all the advantages given. My thought was to leverage County Government appropriations to county historical societies by offering the legacy (non-competitive) matching grants, thereby encouraging county support and connection to their county historical society.


  7. Priscilla, you are definitely on to something, and I think I agree with you. The best thing this money could be used for is capacity building by small organizations (read – general operating support). I guess my mind goes directly to competitive grants, but these are difficult for some organizations to get because they either do not have the experience or the time to complete the applications. I know that we are not yet really competitive with other long-established museums.

    However, I would love to see a small pool of competitive grant money for special projects (especially exhibits!).

    I suspect that we have a long way to go yet on this. Let’s hope the legislative gives us some flexibility in structuring and running the program.


  8. Merlin Peterson says:

    Mary, thanks for pointing to the MN State Arts Board and Regional Arts Councils as a source of inspiration. I was a board member of the RAC for this area. I learned a lot. I was also able to influence the distribution of funds by proposing and helping to write an operating support grant program. I also sat in on a few MN Citizens for the Arts board meetings. MCA is the lobbying arm of the arts in MN. They work pretty hard to develop funding streams for the arts.
    My skills and network from the arts side of my brain have definitely served me well on the history side of my brain. I am one with the zen of arts and history!


  9. Ann Meline says:

    Within the borders of Stearns County there are 6 city museums (all 501c3’s)with buildings and excellent collections, three additional city museums starting up and a Railroad Legacy organization wanting to open a Railroad Museum in St. Cloud. Where do you think these fit into the Legacy funds formula? Are only struggling county museum’s afforded extra funding or might others eligible for the funds Kurt is suggesting? And what about emerging museums? We have been approached over the years to partner in starting the Minnesota Baseball Hall of Fame, a poetry museum and a railroad museum.


    tamara edevold reply on April 1st, 2009:

    the museum and library services grant use this criteria for its grants. it might be a good way to address the smaller organizations/ start ups eligibility:

    An eligible applicant must be:

    * either a unit of state or local government or a private not-for-profit organization that has tax-exempt status under the Internal Revenue Code;
    a museum that, using a professional staff, (1) is organized on a permanent basis for essentially educational or aesthetic purposes; (2) owns or uses tangible objects, either animate or inanimate; (3) cares for these objects; and (4) exhibits these objects to the general public on a regular basis through facilities which it owns or operates.


  10. Ben says:

    If the 9 hour House Committee meeting some of us sat through (well 8 hours of anyway) is any indication, a LOT of folks think they have claims to this money. Sadly I am less optimistic now than before the meeting. What the whole discussion has demonstrated is that all of us need general operating support. As David Grabitske mentioned in another post, we can’t do more with less. We have less staff and less matching funds to do things these days. If we really want to raise the bar in local history we will need to address this – either through the amendment, government funding, endowment, local sales tax, or striking oil on CHS properties.


  11. The mean and nasty side of me says that only organizations which expended some effort to get the amendment passed should have access to the funds. Sorry debate coaches and independent musicians, you had your chance.

    The polite side of me says that we establish firm criteria (as noted above by Tamara) and allow the apps to come forth.

    The tiered model of grant awards is also intriguing. Like what MHC used to do.

    I am concerned (though I of course have no proof of this), that there will be little support for funding that will be strictly general operating, ala the old IMS GOS grants. Am I off base here?


  12. Chad Roberts says:

    We have done a lot of thinking about this issue and have committed a number of positions to paper. A few thoughts on the conversation happening here:

    1. More action needs to be taken by history organizations across the state. Now is the time to speak up for at least 50% of all History/Arts funding going to history projects. (Disbursed through MHS – and I say this even though I don’t 100% support the proposed 45/30/25 distribution model)

    Failure to do so may make the rest of this discussion moot. The Arts lobby is very active, their slice is going to be pretty well protected. It will be the History side that gets raided for pet projects.

    2.Providing support for established organizations (those that have worked hard to develop local funding sources and deliver quality programs over the years) should be a priority.

    New organizations or those that are not otherwise viable should be at the very end of the list, at least in the short-term as we figure out how the funding distribution is going to work.

    3. Accountability needs to built into the system somehow, that makes unrestricted block grants pretty unlikely. At the same time, a competitive grant process adds yet more time spent raising money instead of executing our missions (and there is the administrative costs involved…)

    Dakota County Historical Society has proposed that some Legacy funds be used to match local government and federal agency support. In both cases the recipient organization will have had to make the case for receiving funding already. Why not accept the endorsement of a county board, city council, or NEH/IMLS/NEA review committee as sufficient vetting?

    This isn’t perfect, particularly for those good organizations that don’t receive local support, but I believe it should be part of the solution.

    Best of luck everyone – it’s going to be a very interesting year!


  13. Mary Warner says:

    Art Warner, President of the Morrison County Historical Society, asked me to post the comments he sent to our state legislators, Rep. Al Doty and Senator Paul Koering, concerning the Legacy Amendment.

    Since I will not be able to attend the meeting of the Cultural and Outdoor Resources Finance Division 2009 – 2010 on Monday, March 16th, I am requesting that my comments be made available for the committee to consider.

    My thoughts and comments are under four basic areas: Definitions; Division Of Proceeds; Distribution Of Proceeds; and Long-Term Benefit From The Legacy Amendment. Since my area of interest is County Historical Societies, my comments will not include the Arts or Culture. However, the comments that follow certainly apply to those areas as well.


    The requirement to “Preserve Minnesota’s History” needs careful consideration. Are we talking about only those parts of history that apply to the state as a whole, or are we including the history, in the form of two and three dimensional artifacts, that is located in
    the 87 counties, and in the 300+ museums in the state, or held by the 500+ historical organizations in the state? My suggestion is to include all of the bits and pieces of history that make up the fabric of Minnesota.

    Division Of Proceeds

    The Amendment provides for 19.75% of the proceeds to be allocated to the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. An equitable percentage for each area of the Fund (Arts, History, and Culture) should be determined before distribution begins to avoid charges of favoritism further down the road.

    Distribution Of Proceeds

    Since the Cultural and Outdoor Resources Committee will have neither the time or staff to handle the hundreds, maybe thousands, of requests for funding, a method of distribution is needed. This will require an agency to handle the requests, and a fair, equitable, and reasonable application process. This could be a central agency, such as The Minnesota Historical Society, or it could be set up similar to the Region Arts Councils which consider applications for arts funding in various areas of the state.

    Long-Term Benefit From The Legacy Amendment

    Since the Amendment has a 25 year life, it is my suggestion that an endowment be established to provide a stream of income for the preservation of Minnesota history after the year 2034. This could be through a true endowment, such as those provided by the Minnesota
    Community Foundation which benefits many nonprofits throughout the state. A contribution of $1M or $2M each year would establish a reasonable fund for future use. Other possibilities would be a fund similar to the Transportation Endowment Fund proposed in S.F. 3544
    which was introduced last year in Minnesota, or a trust fund proposed in North Dakota to set aside money from that state’s oil revenue to be used for education, including local school aid and college scholarships.

    I thank you for the opportunity to offer these comments, and will gladly clarify or expand on any point if that should be necessary.

    Art Warner
    Little Falls MN

    Art added the following thought upon asking me to post this:

    Incidentally, setting aside only $1M a year for 25 years would give each of the 87 county historical societies in the state over $14,000 a year for operating expenses.


  14. Minn Post has an excellent article about the discussion of how to divvy up the funds. It has some great quotes from influential legislators.

    On a personal level, it reinforces some of my concerns about how the political process was going to direct a portion of these funds to areas that were perhaps not part of the original thoughts when this amendment was being pitched. But that is just me.



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