Editor’s Note, v.3

Last night, I read that the incoming presidential administration plans to completely eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts. The NEA’s budget has been about $146 million a year for the last decade, and represents a miniscule .003 percent of the federal budget.

I’ve spent a quarter-century in the writing world. I’m a full-time professor now, but before that I spent plenty of years doing part-time work as I tried to master my craft and find a place for myself. (Sometimes careers in the arts take a long time to grow.)

While I worry about the future of the NEA, I don’t worry about the future of art. One thing I know for sure is that artists are people who can make a dollar out of fifteen cents.

What do I mean by that? Not something clueless, like that poverty is romantic or that writers don’t really need money. Working as a nurse’s aide or adjuncting at three different campuses can be stressful and exhausting.

What I mean is: I’ve met tons of writers who could use more income and stability, and health insurance — but I’ve yet to meet the artist who is easily persuaded by money. Most artists I know fear not having enough time, or being bored.

Isn’t art-making itself also making a dollar out of fifteen cents? Writing and reading both can feel like some kind of magic trick. When you write about an ordinary event in your life, it’s suddenly super-charged, and you’re connected to the entire human experience. When you open a book, the book becomes a door to the unknown — and to yourself.

Art will prevail, and no lack of an NEA would stop it.

Here in the Twin Cities, art makes a dollar out of fifteen cents all the time. Just ask the Minnesota State Arts Board (http://www.arts.state.mn.us/about/facts.htm) They say that, for the sixth year in a row, Minnesota was named the most livable state in the nation, thanks in part to everyone’s access to the arts. The Twin Cities consistently rank high on lists of most-livable cities and best places to raise kids, for the same reason.

The arts in Minnesota have over $1 billion in economic impact annually here, even though the arts organizations themselves only spend $171 million. There’s a ripple effect. People come to see plays, concerts, readings, and art openings. They go out to dinner; they have a beer after. Businesses want to set up shop here because our cultural offerings make the area appealing. Artists move here, too, because we have a vibrant arts scene and generous philanthropies.

As a famous New York artist once said to me at an artist colony: Why do so many artists live in Minnesota? You people make it sound like it’s Shangri-La.

And studies show that involvement with the arts helps kids develop core skills, get higher grades, and become the kinds of thinkers that employers want to hire.

When you think about it, art is a lot of bang for the buck.

I believe in arts funding, and not just for financial reasons. Every arts-grant winner I’ve ever met has told me that the grant meant more to them than  just money. The funding itself was important, even vital, but the artist also valued the grant as a symbol. Winning meant that they had been accepted into a community. Somebody believed in their work.

And that’s the function of Runestone: we present a believing mirror to our writers. Literary magazines do that. When people ask, “Who reads that little magazine, anyway? Why waste the money?” they ask the wrong questions.

Plenty of people read literary magazines, first of all, but an editor’s job isn’t just to please or amass readers. Editors pay careful attention to writers in the early stages of their growth. An editor says to her writer (though often not in so many words): I believe what you’re doing is worthwhile, and I want you to keep going.

We at Runestone believe in the work of the undergraduates published in this volume, who again hail from all over this nation. We could not believe the riches we found as we solicited for this issue.

We believe in their work.

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