Jenie Gao - 02-01192017153423

Jenie Gao

For the sixth year, Cap Times reporters asked several Madisonians to share their "bright ideas" for the new year. We will publish the 2019 edition of Bright Ideas throughout the week and in print on Jan. 2.

Imagine a park with no benches or playgrounds. A sports team with no mascot. A city with no landmarks. A nation with no flag. A currency with no image. No music. No movies. No concerts. If you can’t imagine this picture-less, expressionless world, then you believe the arts are worthwhile.

Yet Wisconsin ranks 48th in the nation for arts funding. The current state arts budget is $811,000, which breaks down to 13 cents per capita. That’s 1/50th as much as Minnesota and less than 1/1000th of what Germany spends per capita on arts and culture.

We are at a pivotal time culturally and economically. In Wisconsin, we are caught between two mindsets. Will we double down on an old mindset that calls for more jobs dependent on behemoth companies? Will we embrace a new mindset that prizes entrepreneurism and technology?

What if there was a third option? What if the future was a creative and generative economy, championed by artists, makers, cultivators and creators? 

The FoxConn deal in Wisconsin will cost $4 billion in taxpayer money and at most will create 13,000 jobs, each subsidized by $350,000. For comparison, the average small business takes about $30,000 of startup capital. With that same $4 billion from the FoxConn deal, Wisconsin could give $40,000 business grants to 100,000 existing and aspiring small business owners, many of whom would become the next generation of job creators.

If just one percent of these business grants went to artists, it would be an unprecedented investment of $40 million in 1,000 artists’ careers. If 10 percent went to the arts-focused, that would be $400 million for 10,000 creative entrepreneurs. At any percentage, we would be setting a precedent by investing in the arts at the same level as for-profit businesses in every other industry.

But we don’t have to wait for policy change to achieve this hypothetical future. Both the public and private sectors hold the powers of leadership and influence, and we already have multi-million and billion dollar companies in Wisconsin who could take this charge.

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Katelyn Ferral is The Cap Times' public affairs and investigative reporter. She joined the paper in 2015 and previously covered the energy industry for the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. She's also covered state politics and government in North Carolina.