Media and grassroots groundswell for the University of Minnesota Art Building

The Opportunity
In January 2000, Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura shocked the University of Minnesota’s College of Liberal Arts by not including $21 million to replace the University’s Studio Arts Building in his bonding budget recommendation. Ranked third in the University’s bonding request, the Art Building had been expected to be in the Governor’s recommendation. Completion of funding for the Art Building was the number one priority of the College.

Seizing the opportunity
One week before the start of the legislative session, the college brought in Ted Davis as the lead strategist for a grassroots effort to restore the Art Building to the bonding bill and get it signed by the Governor.

Working with a highly motivated Dean and his external relations staff, Ted developed a plan to identify and mobilize supporters of the University and to create visibility for the Art Building request through the media. Groups mobilized in support of the new Art Building included University students, their parents, University Alumni, donors, arts educators from throughout the state, arts supporters, and business organizations.

A rally on the University Campus energized 800 students to provide names of friends, relatives and acquaintances for a contact database to stimulate legislative contacts. Media coverage of the event, including effective visual images of the old art building, began to raise visibility of the desperate need for a new art building. From that core, Ted and the team developed a list of more that 2,000 people who could be counted on to contact key legislators.

Working with a dedicated group of students, the team created a constant presence at bonding committee meetings while key legislators received a barrage of messages in support of funding for the new art building.

The Results

Thousands of contacts from students, alumni, donors and friends of the arts and effective statewide media coverage had a profound effect on the legislature. Throughout the bonding conference committee process, the House of Representatives insisted that the Art Building project required two more years of planning and $2 million in funding. The Senate held out for $21 million. When the dust settled, the Governor signed a bonding bill that included $17 million for a new Art Building for the University of Minnesota. The Regis Center for Art opened in October, 2003.

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