The disappearing McLean

I know it's been a while since this story started, but I hope that you haven't forgotten about it. Varsity Theater owner Jason Mclean is still facing a lawsuit over accusations of sexual abuse stemming from his time as an actor and teacher at Children's Theater Company. In the past year, the Varsity has been through protests and a variety of acts cancelling their gigs at the venue. Today the Varsity's social media accounts are dormant and no musical acts are scheduled on its calendar.

Now, there is some more troubling news. According to reports from Fox 9 News, McLean failed to show up for a court deposition on January 24 after spending a lot of time trying to dodge subpoenas issued to him by the prosecution. His lawyer dropped him (which would presumably take a lot, considering that his lawyer was the same guy who stuck by notorious swindlers like Denny Hecker and Tom Petters), and as far as anyone can tell, McLean no longer has legal representation. Attorney Jeff Anderson, who represents the plaintiffs in the case, commented that McLean "has gone on the legal lam" (or "on the lamb", as Fox 9 spells it).

It appears to all the world that McLean is attempting to hide out and run away from his problems. If that is his plan, all I can say is that it will not end well.

Today we live in a very different world from the one that gave Children's Theater founder John Clark Donahue. The internet may seem to have a terrible time paying attention to anything for very long, but its memory is actually fairly permanent, and it can follow anyone anywhere, no matter where they choose to hide. This new ability for people to communicate and mobilize has proven devastatingly effective at taking down people who would have been able to fly under the radar in the past. Just ask the boys at Profiles Theater in Chicago. Or look at the recent rapid takedown of Dead Writers Theater Collective, also in Chicago. (By the way, what the hell is up with Chicago these days?)

Even if McLean somehow manages to duck this lawsuit, he will not be able to hide out until the fallout blows over and slink back onto the scene when nobody is looking, like Donahue managed. We can be better than that. We can learn as a community to call out and stand up to abuses of power. We can all do our part to make sure that things like this don't happen again. So, don't forget to pay attention.

Advocaters! Mount up!

By the time this article goes to print, I will be over in St. Paul at the capitol building meeting with some of my elected representatives. I will be doing my small part on this Arts Advocacy Day to tell the state legislators that the arts are important and worthy of being funded. With all the Trumpist bluster about cutting federal funding for the arts, it's more important than ever that supporters get in politicians' faces about this. I'm super pumped about it this year, because it looks like we will have more arts lovers than ever raining down on the capitol dome (figuratively speaking; the literal version would be rather messy).

According to a recent Facebook post from Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, who organizes this event and spends the rest of the year counting to advocate for arts funding: "Because over 800 people have registered, it's going to be a bit crazy. Registration is now closed, we are at capacity at the morning events at the MN History Center."

Damn! There are going to be over 800 of us! Sure, it's not Women's March numbers of people, but that's over 800 people who are going to be in lawmakers' offices talking to them, face-to-face. If you know anything about how lobbying works, you know that this is huge. Also, if you know anything about how lunch counters at government buildings work, you know that you should have probably brought a bag lunch today.

In the meantime, those of you who couldn't join us here in St. Paul can still be part of the effort. You won't be able to ogle the newly-renovated capitol, but you can send a many strongly-worded letters as you like. As MCA's Facebook post concluded: "If you are not registered and would still like to participate, please send your legislators a letter asking them to support the arts here: Thank you to the best arts community in the world!"

Now, I just have to figure out where the hell I'm going to park.

By the numbers

I know that many of you artists out there are able to argue passionately all day long about the fascinating, soulful, sublime, elevating, uplifting power of artistic expression and its ability to foster excitement, understanding, empathy and joy in your fellow man; but let's face it: you're going to come across a lot of people in this world who have sticks up their butts and only care about money. Unfortunately, you're going to have to sway them as well. (Pro tip: don't tell them that they have "sticks up their butts")

As luck would have it, today is also the day that the 2017 Creative Minnesota report comes out.

In the 2016 fiscal year, Minnesota distributed $61 million from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund of the Legacy Amendment. This fund receives 20% of the money raised from Legacy taxes (not 1/3, as you will often find uninformed internet commenters claiming), and 47% of ACHF money goes to fund the arts through the State Arts Board and the regional arts councils. That's about $28.7 million directly spent by the state on the arts. What's the economic impact of that investment?

How about $1.4 billion? That's how much economic impact the organizations that responded to the Creative Minnesota report contribute to the state's economy. 104,000 artists and creatives in the state collectively spend $644 million a year as individuals in the state. In total, the study finds $2 billion in economic impact in the state, which resulted $222 million in government revenue.

From the government revenue side alone, that's a more than 7-to-1 return on investment, even just forgetting about economic multiplier effects. It's a much better deal than a sports stadium, by a longshot. Of course, any sane economist could tell you that pouring money down a hole is a better deal than a sports stadium. I could seriously go on for pages about what a money-loser a stadium is, but we're talking about the arts here, so let's get back to that and try not to alienate too many football fans as we do it.

I, for one, will gladly spend $28.7 million to support a $2 billion economic sector, and I don't think I'm alone in that. According to the 2017 report, 76% of Minnesotans attend arts and culture activities every year (compared to 68% of Americans as a whole). 90% of Minnesotans believe that these activities make the state an attractive place to live and work. 91% of Minnesotans believe that artists make an important contribution to their communities. These are pretty astounding numbers. Maybe that's why Minnesota audiences seem so quick to give standing ovations at performances. They really do value it that much.

There are a lot more numbers to pull from the report, so I highly encourage you to read through it. Whenever you see some article about state and federal funding of the arts, you will always come across a pack of commenters crying that they don't want their tax dollars "wasted" on funding the arts. These people will yell fervently about this. They are not the majority in this state, no matter how loudly they scream. Look at the numbers. When we go in to argue for arts funding, we must always remember that we are here, we are many, we are wanted, and we have real power, so long as we can get together and pull in the same direction.

So, go forth, artists, armed with information! Make Minnesota the best that it can be!

Headshot of Derek Lee Miller
Derek Lee Miller

Derek Lee Miller is an actor, puppeteer, writer, designer, builder and musician (basically, he'll do anything to make a buck). He is a founding ensemble member of Transatlantic Love Affair.