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The time to invest in Iowa culture is now

Published: Thursday, March 16, 2017 12:49 p.m. CDT

Last month, the legislature passed a mid-year budget cut that scooped the Iowa Cultural Trust to help close a gap in the state’s current budget. The legislature had created the endowment fund in 2002 as a tool to support Iowa’s arts, history and culture through grants from the interest earned on the principle, which the legislature had gradually built to $6.1 million.

In response to the recent decision, the Iowa Cultural Trust’s board of trustees, who are appointed by the governor and legislature, sent a letter to every lawmaker at the statehouse to express their disappointment and request that the trust be fully restored. This request was echoed by the boards of directors of the Iowa Arts Council, State Historical Society of Iowa and Iowa Museum Association, and as leaders of these groups, we feel it is our duty -- and the duty of the legislature -- to help right this wrong and replenish the trust as a resource for long-term growth.

The Cultural Trust is invested by the State Treasurer’s Office and has earned only modest interest due to laws that govern the investment of state funds. However, standard calculations for private-sector endowments suggest that a $6.1 million investment could create a lasting legacy for Iowa communities and their cultural institutions.

As cities and towns of every size invest in their cultural assets to honor the past and shape a more vibrant future, Iowa’s museums, theaters, orchestras and other cultural programs can be a major catalyst for economic vitality. More than 70,000 Iowans work in the state’s creative sector, and arts, history and culture consistently rank among the top reasons that travelers visit the state. So the time to invest in Iowa culture is now.

A recent national study found that cultural nonprofits generate $5 in tax revenues for every $1 they receive from local, state and federal governments. This kind of return makes public investment in Iowa’s arts, history and culture essential for our state to remain competitive.  

We understand the legislature has to make some tough decisions to balance the budget, but we firmly believe in the reason that lawmakers created the Cultural Trust in the first place: to create a reliable funding mechanism to support Iowa culture. As our partner in growing Iowa’s cultural community and creative economy, we respectfully request that the Iowa Legislature join us in a bipartisan commitment to restoring the $6.1 million Iowa Cultural Trust.

Signed —

Mary Ellen Kimball, Osceola Chair, Iowa Cultural Trust Board of Trustees

Paul Dennison, Mount Pleasant Chair, Iowa Arts Council Board of Directors

Tova Brandt, Harlan Chair, State Historical Society of Iowa Board of Directors

Cynthia Sweet, Cedar Falls Executive Director, Iowa Museum Association

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