In the audience, residents laughed, cheered and, after one man described how lung cancer cut short his wife’s life, cried. They were gathered for a Sunday afternoon “story show,” organized by the owner of the Flyleaf Book Shop. The one-page program didn’t mention funding from the Legacy Amendment. But like all shows onstage at the Little Theatre — and most arts events in this small but growing city two hours west of Minneapolis — that money played a key role.

Legacy funding cuts the cost of renting the theater to $100. It pays the part-time salary of the manager who greeted audience members and pulled closed the curtains. Soon, it’ll fund a new projector and screen.

“Community theaters, we can’t operate without that kind of help,” said Ginny Lief, vice president of the Little Theatre’s board. “Without it, we basically would have to fold.”

New London, like small cities across Minnesota, has felt the influx of dollars from the Legacy Amendment, passed a decade ago. Since 2009, Legacy funding has provided more than $440 million to historical, artistic and cultural projects and events, with about $200 million going specifically to artists and arts organizations across the state. In 2009, before that funding began, Minnesota ranked ninth in the nation for per capita public funding for the arts. Today, it ranks first. The state spends about $6 per person on the arts, according to the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, pulling well ahead of states such as Hawaii and New York.

The impact is clearest, leaders and artists say, in outstate Minnesota, where grants have boosted artists’ projects and rooted fledgling organizations.

“It’s been a huge boon to the rural economy,” said Aaron Spangler, a nationally known sculptor who lives and works in Park Rapids, Minn. “You can see the difference. A few thousand bucks in a rural area means a lot … where you wouldn’t necessarily feel that dent in the Twin Cities.”

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