Dane County, WI Cultural Affairs Commission
Status: Established in 1976
A brief summary of the Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission
The Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission was created by the Dane County Board of Supervisors in 1976, at the end of the American bicentennial observance, to foster public participation in local arts and historical activity; to increase public access to the cultural resources of the county; and to forge working alliances between public and private sectors in support of the arts. The fledgling agency was launched the following year in a basement storeroom of the courthouse, provisioned with a federal surplus desk, a $5,000 budget, and high expectations.
For over a quarter century through five administrations, the commission has built and sustained a strong, focused, publicly responsive program, producing a solid record of community service. Although the commission is one of the smallest units of county government, it is widely regarded as one of its most successful and respected agencies. A division of the county executive office, the commission serves 430,000 citizens through three program areas: grantmaking; commission-produced publications; and information and technical assistance. Governed by an eleven-member policymaking board of eight citizens and three county board supervisors, the commission's $600,000 program is administered by a staff of one.
A unique financial structure
During the last two decades, the commission has carefully crafted a diversified financial base unlike any other public arts agency in the United States. It is a remarkable mix of leveraged private-public dollars which include an annual Dane County appropriation matched by major donations from area corporations, foundations, and individuals. Six donors contribute over sixty percent of the commission's annual grant budget: the Overture Foundation, American Girl Fund for Children, the Evjue Foundation, the Madison Community Foundation, Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation, and the Endres Mfg. Company Foundation. Longtime underwriters of commission publications are Alliant Energy and the Webcrafters-Frautschi Foundation.
At the forefront of its program activity, the commission provides a continuing and stable source of funding for nonprofit groups, schools, municipalities, and individual artists seeking support for arts and history projects. In fact, the commission's annual $470,000 grant disbursement, constitutes the largest single source of support from any public agency which awards funds for the arts and humanities in Dane County.
The $470,000 allocation is awarded in three annual competitions for a culturally and artistically diverse range of exhibitions, music and dance concerts, touring productions, community and neighborhood festivals, arts-in-schools residencies, and historical publications and exhibits, reaching 470,000 service recipients in virtually every town, village, and city in the county. Every year approximately 125 project and capital grants help generate an additional $5 million in matching funds from other local sources. The commission's grant review process is assisted by a knowledgeable eight-member arts advisory panel and four-member local history advisory panel.
Over the last twenty-five years the commission has awarded more than 2,300 grants to hundreds of such disparate organizations as the Perry Hauge Log Church Preservation Association; Li Chiao-Ping Dance; Southern Wisconsin Hmong Association; Opera for the Young; Elvehjem Museum of Art; Centro Hispano; Verona Community Theatre; Urban League of Greater Madison; Mazomanie Historical Society; Token Creek Music Festival; Oregon School District; Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, Ballet Folklorico; and Mount Horeb Landmarks Foundation.
Publications for the public
The commission is perhaps best known for its popular annual art posters and desk calendars featuring works by area artists. These signature products expand the reach of the agency into the county and help generate revenues to support the commission's ongoing program. Every year forty town, village and city halls serve as distribution sites for 15,000 posters and 8,000 calendars. Other award-winning publications for children include Everybody's Ethnic: A Dane County Alphabet; CAPITAL LETTERS IN DANE COUNTY ARCHITECTURE; and A Gallery of Colors and Numbers. Commission-produced books have included Back to Beginnings: The Early Days of Dane County; Settlers of Dane County: The Photographs of Andreas Larsen Dahl; and Historic Places of Rural Dane County.
An information source
In addition to information provided daily to the public through its office and on its website, the commission publishes an inventory of over three hundred Dane County cultural organizations and an annual listing of local arts and crafts fairs. The agency is currently developing an extensive artists' help desk with Madison CitiArts to appear on Portal Wisconsin.
Over the last two decades, the Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission has received awards recognizing its programs and publications from the American Association of Museums, National Association of Counties, American Association for State and Local History, Graphic Design USA, Philip Morris Industrial, State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Downtown Madison, Capital Community Citizens, and the Madison Community Foundation.