Updated: 03/20/2013 6:36 AM KSTP.com By: Jay Kolls
Minnesota taxpayers paid for trips to places like Bora Bora, Costa Rica and New Zealand and all of the trips were for artists.
State records show the Minnesota Arts Board dished out 114 grants under the Artists' Initiative program between 2009 and 2013. The money went to artists who traveled to 40 countries and 20 different states. The program spent $5.6 million in that time with 15 percent of the trips overseas.
The Arts Board tells 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS the money is not from the voter-approved Legacy Fund. The Arts Board says it comes from the state's general fund because Legacy Fund money can only be spent on projects in Minnesota. The head of the Arts Board, Sue Gens, tells 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS the overseas trips are beneficial to taxpayers because they enhance culture, education and provide economic development. Gens says artists choose to stay and live in Minnesota rather than leave for New York City or Los Angeles.
The group Watchdog.org says the trips are coming at a time when the state cannot afford unnecessary spending as lawmakers wrestle with a budget deficit. The group's spokesperson, Tom Steward, says "there appears to be no rhyme or reason to the Arts Board funding." Steward asserts "the money is there and they just feel like they have to spend it in some way, but it is hard to determine if taxpayers' get a good return on their investment."_