The Legacy Amendment proves how Minnesota is unique

Minnesotans’ commitment to support arts and culture through the 2008 Legacy Amendment got some love Wednesday in the public media trade publication “Current” in a story that will make audiences elsewhere fairly jealous — which is just the way Minnesotans like it.

For the record, MPR gets about $3.1 million a year for programming under the voter-approved amendment, which dedicated a portion of the state sales tax to outdoors, environmental and cultural programs.

But the story is about the small public radio stations that struggle to come up with the resources to provide programming to underserved audiences.

Twin Cities-based KFAI (a “scrappy” operation, according to “Current”) uses Legacy money — about $98,000 a year — to produce MinneCulture, which provides stories of the arts and culture.

Independent producer Melissa Olson, produced a documentary on native children who were adopted into non-native families. Like her mother.

But there’s more to public media than the Twin Cities. In several communities all over the state, it’s providing the last outpost of local news.

KOJB-FM, a north central Minnesota station serving one of several Ojibwe reservations in the state, gets about $90,000 a year in Arts and Cultural Heritage Funds, according to Brad Walhof, station manager.

KOJB reaches about 10,000 members of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and a potential non-Native audience of 18,000, he said.

Grants from the support production of Living the Ojibwe Way of Life, Native American Plants and Medicines and Learning the Ojibwe Language, a five-minute program in which a former reservation language teacher presents a new Ojibwe phrase every week.

The listenership for these programs includes non-Native people, Walhof told Current. “The programs we produce with Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund money create a better understanding among our neighbors who get to learn a little bit about the culture of Native Americans.”

WTIP in the resort town of Grand Marais serves Cook County, the largest county in Minnesota with the smallest population. The AMPERS member station sits on the northern shore of Lake Superior, about 40 miles southwest of the Canadian border.

In recent years it has become the primary media outlet for what is known as the Arrowhead Region of Minnesota, according to Matthew Brown, station manager.

Grants from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund supported a series of reports on sex trafficking on Lake Superior, which aired on WTIP’s Lake Superior Project, an ongoing series.

Monies from the fund helped cover the costs of a reporter to travel to Duluth for the assignment. WTIP also commissioned the feature stories “Walking the Old Road” and “Of Woods and Words” from volunteers who did the reporting under freelance contracts and used WTIP’s equipment.

The money also supported production of a program that was based on letters written during World War I by a local soldier named Albert Bally.

“We really try to be as local as we can be,” said Brown.

And therein lies the value the Legacy Amendment’s value: You can’t make money anymore being local. There aren’t enough local businesses left to fund it.

That Minnesotans recognized the value of coverage — let alone voting overwhelmingly for the Amendment while the economy was collapsing — is proof of a truism that others in the country are coming to understand: we Minnesotans are a unique breed.

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