In 2008, Minnesotans voted to support the arts through the creation of the Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund (also called the “Legacy Fund”), which stipulates that 19.75% of the revenues raised from state sales taxes for 25 years are to be disbursed to arts and cultural organizations, programs, and projects. Minnesota’s legislative coordinating commission projects that more than $1.2 billion will be invested in the state’s arts and cultural heritage during the lifetime of the fund.
The establishment of the Legacy Fund five years ago has resulted in significant financial windfalls for Minnesota’s premier literary nonprofit presses, and the funding has impacted them to varying degrees. Three of them have received, and will most likely continue to receive, unrestricted subsidies for general operating support, including Graywolf Press, which has received a total of $271,789 between fiscal year 2010 and fiscal year 2014. “It’s allowed us to grow our program by about five books a year, and we have had outstanding results in terms of review and prize attention,” said Graywolf publisher Fiona McCrae. “We’ve received $50,000 [each year] that wouldn’t have been there otherwise, and it has made a tremendous difference. There aren’t a lot of foundations lining up to fund nonprofit publishing.”
Since 2010, Coffee House Press has received $131,837 for general operating support, plus funding for specific programs, such as the Writers and Readers Library Residency program, maintained in collaboration with the Hennepin County Library system, and a $15,000 ADA accessibility grant. “Legacy funding gives Coffee House the firm grounding we need to take risks; we’ve expanded our programming into translation and essays,” said publisher Chris Fischbach. He disclosed that Coffee House has added four more releases per year to its list since receiving Legacy Funds, and added, “Our books are accessible to more people, thanks to an ongoing Legacy-funded project to convert our entire list for the print disabled.”
Milkweed Editions has received $171, 959 in operating support since its fiscal year 2010, as well as $45,000 for the publisher’s collaborative Alliance for Reading literacy program in schools, which provides students with opportunities to read Milkweed books, explore the themes of the books through artist residencies and author visits, and then create their own works of art integrating their experiences. Another $30,000 has gone toward underwriting statewide Milkweed author tours. The support has not significantly impacted the press’s mission or its programming, insisted program manager and editor Patrick Thomas; rather, it’s “simply allowed us to do more, which is no small thing.” Milkweed is organizing and successfully publicizing more author events, Thomas explained, and the press is even more receptive than it had been previously to publishing debut authors, as well as writers “working in genres that aren’t financially supported.”
The Minnesota Historical Society Press/Borealis Books has yet to receive general operating support through the Legacy Fund, although its parent institution, the Minnesota Historical Society, receives thousands of dollars per year for both administrative expenses and program support from the fund. MHSP director Pamela McClanahan said the press has received $250, 699 to date for specific projects—an amount that “has changed us.” She added, “Seed money for digitalization has allowed us to enter the 21st century, and it has given us more breathing room to explore stories that take more time. It has allowed us to pursue important books... that do not necessarily have high sales projections but are exceptional.”
Not only did MHSP receive $114,984 to finance the conversion of its list into digital formats, but it received another $135, 715, which went toward launching a Dakota-language Web site, as well as toward publishing four books relating to the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862: Mni sota Makocce by Gwen Westerman and Bruce White; The Dakota Prisoner of War Letters, translated by Clifford Canku and Michael Simon; Dakota Women’s Work by Colette Hyman; and We Are Still Here by Laura Witstock and Dick Bancroft.
As a result, MHSP’s situation has changed dramatically since 2009, when the state Legislature cut Minnesota Historical Society’s annual budget by 16%, after the recession had slowed MHSP’s revenue stream. Four full-time positions at MHSP were eliminated (one position was later reinstated), and the number of annual releases was cut by one-third, to 20 titles per year. Since then, McClanahan said, MHSP has improved its margins “considerably”—in large part due to the impact of the Legacy Fund, as well as more of a focus by the press on “its strengths” (Native American and Scandinavian studies). It reported $1.2 million in net revenues this past fiscal year. “In fiscal year 2013, we are essentially fully revenue sustaining, covering all book-publishing-related expenses, including all of our marketing,” McClanahan said.