Governor Jesse Ventura has vetoed the $24 million in state bonding that was to be allocated to the Guthrie Theater for the creation of its new $125 million arts center.
In an interview for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Guthrie artistic director Joe Dowling said, "[Ventura] is destroying the infrastructure of the arts. . . It's a shameful act. We're all told that the arts and culture are one of the reasons that make Minnesota a special place." Dowling added, "The governor sees them as utterly irrelevant to the quality of life in Minnesota and I think that needs to be remembered when people assess his record . . . It all came down to a dictatorial stroke of the pen."
"The public-private partnership is absolutely critical to the success of the project," James Morrison, a spokesman for the Guthrie, commented earlier in the week. Morrison explained that a veto by the Governor would effectively stop the project completely. "The project itself," Morrison continued, "is expected to provide $285 million in economic impact to the state's economy and employ more than 1,500 construction workers over the four-year period. The project was scheduled to break ground this fall." Additionally, the Guthrie employs over 900 artists a year, serving an audience of over 500,000.
Dowling said the Guthrie's board will meet on Wednesday to determine the fate of the project. "We always said there was no Plan B," Dowling remarked. "For us to do what we want to do, to create a major public institution that has national and international significance, we must get the state of Minnesota involved. What we were looking for was less than one-third of the cost. We're raising the rest privately."
Dowling released an official statement May 23, which follows: "Governor Ventura's decision to veto the $24 million appropriation in the Capital Bonding Bill is a serious body blow to the Guthrie on the River project. Since the beginning of the process, it has been clear that we would need substantial state investment to achieve this ambitious goal for the community we serve. Through the last two years, with the dedicated work of many board members, staff, students, and supporters we have established diverse, cross-party support in both the House and the Senate. It was an impressive achievement to secure such a high figure at the end of the Legislative session. It was unfortunate that not enough time was left to allow for an override of this veto.
"The Governor never bothered to discover the merits of this project. Although we requested meetings with him many times, he refused to meet with any representative of the theater. He seriously misrepresented our position on Public Radio on Monday and ignored our efforts to correct his lack of knowledge about the Guthrie and its facility needs. With a dictatorial stroke of his pen, he has shown contempt for the thousands of messages, emails and phone calls from all around the state and beyond that have flooded his office in recent days.
"He ignores the fact that one of the things that makes this state special is a passion for the arts. As one of the letters to him from the students at Decorah High School, Iowa said, 'The Guthrie is one of Minnesota's treasures, as much as your 10,000 lakes.' He fails to see what the rest of the country knows, that Minnesota is, to quote Peter Jennings on ABC World News, 'a cool place to live' because of the high level of artistic activity. Because the arts do not resonate with him personally, he refuses to see their importance to the quality of life here in Minnesota. He fails to appreciate the real economic advantages that the new Guthrie will provide in terms of employment, tourism and urban renewal. This veto is a destructive misuse of his authority as Governor and it is a very sad day for Minnesota.
"It is now essential for us to stand back and consider what our options are in the light of this new situation. Within the next week, the executive committee of the Board will meet and look at what steps we can take to move the project forward. What we must all remember is that the vision of the Guthrie on the River still remains our goal and that the opportunities it offers to expand our reach into our community must not be lost because of the intemperate actions of one man. The Guthrie Theater has survived and prospered for almost forty years because it is supported by the community. As in the past, we will continue to aspire to excellence and do our work with pride so that future generations of Minnesotans will know the power of great theater.
"Thank you to many thousands of Minnesotans and individuals from throughout the world who have supported this great effort. It is now time to move on to the next stage in this journey."
The Capitol Bonding Bill, which passed the Minnesota Legislature May 19, included a $24 million grant to the Guthrie Theater. The money would go towards the creation of the Guthrie's new arts center, which is budgeted at $125 million. To date, the theatre has raised $59.6 million toward a private fundraising goal of $75 million. Although state support represents less than one-third of the center's total cost, that support is critical for the project's realization.
The $979 million bill package passed over the weekend includes a $60 million lab for the state departments of agriculture and health, $65 million for road and bridge improvements, $20 million for a busway, $10 million for a Minneapolis planetarium and the aforementioned $24 million for the Guthrie. Governor Ventura was reportedly upset that the package did not include funds for the Northstar commuter rail line, which is his top bonding priority.
The new Guthrie arts facility was designed by French architect Jean Nouvel and would include an 1,100-seat thrust theatre, a 700-seat proscenium stage, a flexible 250-seat studio theatre and classrooms for more than 100,000 annual education participants. Production facilities, restaurants and rehearsal spaces would also be part of the proposed center.
The Guthrie Theater was founded in 1963 by Irish director Sir Tyrone Guthrie. Joe Dowling is the theatre's current artistic director. It is one of the nation's leading regional theatres. The Guthrie will host the premiere of a new Arthur Miller play later this year.
Ventura, a former pro wrestler, won the Governor's seat on the Reform Party ticket in a surprise victory over Democratic and Republican contenders. The rough-spoken, often outlandish politician is regularly made sport of by Garrison Keillor on the radio personality's nationally broadcast program "Prarie Home Companion."
—By Andrew Gans