Budget cut bill guts Iowa Cultural Trust

$6M fund made grants to arts organizations throughout Iowa

The Grand Stairway at the Iowa State Capitol building in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
The Grand Stairway at the Iowa State Capitol building in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

Now that the Iowa Cultural Trust has been nearly drained to help cover a projected state budget shortfall, the state’s nonprofit arts and cultural organizations will need to find new sources of money.

On Wednesday, Gov. Terry Branstad signed a $117.8 million de-appropriation bill for the current budget year that reduces funds for some arts programming — cutting $210,958 from the Department of Cultural Affairs and $200,000 from Iowa Public Television — and transfers all but $100,000 from the $6.1 million cultural trust fund into the state’s general fund.

“It’s a short-term solution for a long-term problem,” said Sean Ulmer, executive director of the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, which received two trust grants totaling $30,371 in 2010 and 2011. “ ... Now is the perfect time for our legislators to discuss how we got into this situation, and how do we course-correct so that we’re not in this situation next year.”

Created in 2002 as a sustainable funding source, the Iowa Cultural Trust operated like an endowment. Interest income paid for “Stability” grants and “Endowment Challenge” grants, and each required recipients to secure matching funds from other sources.

Since 2010, 75 grants have been given to 58 groups, totaling $611,929 and leveraging more than $2 million in local matching grants. In Eastern Iowa, 13 organizations have received $181,181 in trust grants.

Now the fund’s remaining $100,000 is all that’s left to cover grants — not only for the rest of the year, but perhaps forever if the trust is not eventually replenished.

“The goal of this cultural trust was to help arts organizations raise money for some of the things that weren’t so glamorous — some of the things that were harder to raise money for,” said Michael Morain, spokesman for the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs in Des Moines.


“Grants to the endowment, which is the larger one we received, are not sexy grants,” Ulmer said of the $28,000 the cultural trust awarded the museum in 2011. “But what was wonderful is that we could leverage it and get a 3-to-1 match. Once that money is in (a nonprofit organization’s) endowment, it’s there forever, and it will provide revenue for you forever.”

The Cedar Rapids Museum of Art and Riverside Theatre in Iowa City both used smaller Stability grants to look at ways of ramping up revenue for their organizations.

A $2,000 grant in 2010 let the art museum give more hours to a part-time employee to investigate ways of attracting more community events.

Riverside Theatre received $2,500 in 2014 to hire an assistant to help with fundraising campaigns. “She’s still around, so that helped us create a job,” said Jennifer Holan, the theater’s executive director. A second grant of $1,560 in 2016 will help the theater offset costs of seeking sponsorship money.

“In both cases, it really allowed us to identify needs that we are not meeting with our fundraising, and to get additional resources. We are a very small staff, so even a very small amount of funding that helps us provide additional hours for people makes a big difference,” Holan said.

While the theater does receive other money from the state, “it’s usually more project-focused or general operations-focused,” she said. ”This was a unique funding ability, and something that showed a real focus on helping arts organizations try to be more stable.”

Rep. Kirsten Running-Marquardt, D-Cedar Rapids, ranking member of the Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee, has been a vocal opponent of siphoning the Cultural Trust Fund.

“I really believe the Cultural Trust, since its inception, has been a critical part of enriching lives in communities across Iowa — in helping to sustain our history and our culture and what defines us and connects us with an art community,” she said by phone from Des Moines.


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Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs Director Mary Cownie said in statement that the agency has been “inundated with questions and concerns from Iowans who care about the arts and have spoken up in support of the trust.”

“Moving forward,” she said, “the Legislature and the Cultural Trust board have asked the DCA to propose several new long-term solutions to support arts and culture now that the trust has been eliminated.”

Eastern Iowa Impact

These 13 Eastern Iowa arts and cultural organizations have received a total of $181,181 in Iowa Cultural Trust grants since 2010:


Amana Heritage Society — $10,000 in 2011.


Cedar Rapids Museum of Art — $30,371 total (2010 and 2011).

Iowa Art Works Inc. (operates The Ceramics Center) — $2,500 (2011).

Orchestra Iowa — $30,000 (2014).


Bell Tower Productions — $7,000 (2011).

Colts Drums and Bugle Corps, Dubuque — $2,500 (2010).

Dubuque Arboretum — $30,000 (2015).

Dubuque Arts Council — $1,250 (2011).

Dubuque Main Street Ltd. — $2,500 (2010).

Dubuque Museum of Art — $2,500 (2015).

Dubuque Symphony Orchestra — $30,500 total (2011 and 2015).

National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium — $28,000 (2011).


Riverside Theatre — $4,060 total (2014 and 2016).



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