For decades I have worked on a block of 5,000 people of which the majority of people have lived in the Twin Cities (and the U.S.) for 5-10 years. On this block, I am able to bear witness to injustice on a global, national, regional, statewide, city, and community level as well as joy, love, and prosperity. I simultaneously love these cities and endeavor to make them better, seeking equity and quality of life for all.
Minneapolis City leaders in the 19th Century committed to a quality of life, hired a Park Superintendent (Theodore Wirth) who created a plan to make the park system a shining jewel, allowing businesses and government to attract – and retain – the best of the best. In the 1920’s and 30’s there was a second concerted effort to bridge the summers with virtuosic arts complementing natural beauty and creating an even greater quality of life. Multinational corporations sprouted and boasted of their corporate citizenship by almost competing philanthropically to support the arts, social services, education, and so much more. The Five Percent Club bragged about charitably distributing 5% of their pre-tax profits. The gauntlet was thrown and many publicly held and privately owned companies took the challenge.
A mentor of mine – himself a program officer for a major corporation at the time – warned me to never confuse corporate grantmaking with philanthropy. There was a myth that when fundraisers die and go to heaven, they land in Minnesota. Our progressive politics, generous philanthropy, abundance of multi-national corporate headquarters, and adventurous audiences allowed invention that often revealed the best of the best. After 43 years of leading a nonprofit corporation, corporate grantmaking has virtually disappeared as a gesture of munificence. It is now supply chain investment disguised as philanthropy.
As I look at a playbill from a 1995 Mixed Blood production, I see a corporate donor list that includes General Mills, Pillsbury, Honeywell, Ceridian, Cray, Control Data, Imation, Jostens, Land O’Lakes, Toro, International Multifoods, Valspar, Ameriprise, Ecolab, StarTribune, Cargill, Best Buy, Carlson Companies, Lamaur Industries, Fingerhut, Dayton Hudson, 3M, Medtronic, Northwest Banks, St. Paul Companies, First Banks, Twin Cities Federal, Dorsey Whitney, and more. Even after an unprecedented tax break, that list is down to a half dozen and the sizes of those gifts are dwarfed by their former amounts. Some moved, some merged, some were acquired, some folded. Ownership and leadership are not local and/or homegrown. Mixed Blood’s five biggest institutional givers are now not from Minnesota. The majority of philanthropic dollars come from outside Minnesota. Individuals who live here never cease to amaze me with their willingness to give not from abundance but from a desire to make a difference. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
The quality of life remains, to me, unparalleled, but the equation changes. The Legacy Amendment of 2008 was a game changer, pumping life, dollars, vision, and hope into the nonprofit arts sector. Art as a thing of beauty and catalyst of change has never been better in the Twin Cities, but the horizon is blurry and insidious. I urge you to find and appreciate the arts organizations that move your pleasure centers and your moral compass.