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The Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment to the Minnesota Constitution, approved by voters in 2008, was a financial windfall for supporters of the state’s wildlife and wetlands, drinking water, arts, history and cultural heritage.

‘Club Book’ organizers defend pricey allocation

Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman

The Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment to the Minnesota Constitution, approved by voters in 2008, was a financial windfall for supporters of the state’s wildlife and wetlands, drinking water, arts, history and cultural heritage.

And for Neil Gaiman.

The 2009 Newbery Award-winning author earned $45,000 — all of it coming directly from so-called legacy-amendment funds — for an appearance a week ago at Stillwater Junior High School in the kickoff event of Club Book, a project of the Metropolitan Library Services Agency. The project brings well-known national and regional authors to Twin Cities-area libraries by tapping into the arts and cultural heritage fund portion of legacy-amendment funds.

Gaiman, who lives in Green Lake, Wis., slightly more than 230 miles from Stillwater, spoke to approximately 500 people on a pleasant Minnesota Sunday afternoon. He brought along his dogs, who sat in the audience during his presentation — which was free to the public — and afterward presided over a “meet and greet” with fans.

(Update: Gaiman says he’s “never been” to Green Lake and, in fact, lives even closer to Stillwater — only a half-hour away.)

Gaiman is a prolific and popular author of science fiction, graphic novels and comics who earned the 2009 Newbery for “The Graveyard Book.” He posted this update on his Facebook page after the Stillwater appearance:

“The Stillwater event was really brilliant: intimate and nice. I think I enjoyed it every bit as much as the people there did. I even did a meet and greet.”

Chris Olson, director of the Metropolitan Library Services Agency (MLSA) and one of those who helps oversee the $4.25 million in legacy amendment funds that were allocated to the state’s regional public library systems, admitted last week that he was somewhat taken aback when he learned the amount of Gaiman’s fee for the Stillwater event.

“Frankly, yes, I was surprised,” Olson said. “That was my immediate reaction.”

But Olson said he and the others charged with distributing the library legacy amendment funds — $150,000 of which was earmarked for the Club Book project — carefully weighed coughing up the $45,000 fee against the potential benefits.

“We thought about the type of audience that he would attract, and the sort of once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make this happen,” he said. “This was a new metrowide event, and we knew this would bring media attention to it and enhance the other programs that would happen after this one.

“I think we pretty seriously weighed whether we wanted to do it, and we came to the conclusion that it would work.”

Sheila Smith, executive director of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, said she wasn’t familiar with the MLSA’s plan for the Club Book series, and she has little knowledge of speaking fees for well-known authors.

“I’m not familiar with the going rate for the author series, and I have no clue what the cost is to bring in an author,” said Smith, who helped shepherd the arts and heritage angle of the legacy amendment. “I’m assuming that there might be quite a spectrum.

“I guess it depends on what the curatorial vision is for the series and why you’d choose certain authors over others.”

Gaiman’s inaugural appearance kicked off a schedule that includes upcoming Club Book appearances by other nationally recognized authors, most of whom also live close to Minnesota.

The main difference between the appearances of those authors and that of Gaiman, according to Olson: Their fees are “significantly less” than Gaiman’s.

“It varies between $2,000 and $3,000 for the other authors,” he said. “And sometimes when they’re on their book tours, they ask for even less because they want to promote their books.”

Olson, who has served on the American Library Association’s governing council, noted that such heavy-hitter speakers as former Vice President Al Gore and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright charged the group $60,000 to $75,000 for speeches.

Olson also said timing considerations — the amendment was approved in late 2008, but didn’t become law until July 2009 and the money, intended to be spent over a biennium, wasn’t allocated until last October — forced library managers to operate under a compressed timeline.

“That was another incidental factor,” Olson said. “Libraries are the only group [among those receiving legacy amendment funds] that don’t have the ability to roll over these dollars from year one to year two of the biennium, so we had a fairly large pot of money that we had to spend by June 30, 2010.”

Olson said MLSA expects to receive the same amount in the next round of allocations, and that it will likely continue the Club Book program in the fall.

Patricia Conley, director of the Washington County Library in Woodbury, also defended Gaiman’s $45,000 fee, though she admitted that she, too, was somewhat surprised by the requested amount.

“I don’t have a problem with having the people of Washington County benefit from this program,” she said. “This is not money that was going to be spent on operating libraries. This is money that was given to regional library systems so they could have arts and cultural heritage programming.

“The people of Washington County paid that money, and they had every right to see it spent in their community, with all the attendant benefits. People stayed after the event and had dinner. People came out and enjoyed Stillwater. While it’s a large fee, whenever you bring in a major national star, it costs money.”

Yet, despite Olson’s and Conley’s assurances that Gaiman’s Club Book kickoff appearance was worth the price, at least one librarian (who requested anonymity) expressed outrage over the expenditure.

“I am a librarian and on the library side, supposedly, but this makes my blood boil,” the librarian said. “This is ridiculous. There are people who need food and who have lost their homes, and this is just plain disgusting.”

Club Book’s author appearance schedule

The writers who will split the remaining Club Book allotment of $105,000 left after Gaiman’s payout:

•  Frances Mayes, author of “Under the Tuscan Sun,” May 4 at the Stafford Library in Woodbury and May 5 at the Southdale Library.

• Minnesota native and memoirist Patricia Hampl, May 19 at the Stillwater Library, July 8 at the Southdale Library and July 9 at the Chaska Community Center.

•  Minnesota native Tim O’Brien, author of “The Things They Carried,” May 21 at the Chaska Community Center and May 22 at the Schwan Event Center in Blaine.

• Wisconsin resident Jane Hamilton, author of “The Book of Ruth,” June 3 at the Southdale Library, June 4 at the Chaska Community Center and June 5 at the Highland Park Library in St. Paul.

• Michael Perry, a Wisconsin author who writes humorous memoirs, June 10 at the Ridgedale Library in Minnetonka and July 19 at the Shakopee Library.

• Garrison Keillor, June 14 at the Maplewood Library and June 15 at the Schwan Event Center in Blaine.

• Kate DiCamillo, author of “Because of Winn Dixie” and other children’s books, June 19 at the Galaxie Library in Apple Valley.

• Playwright Kevin Kling, Aug. 18 at the Stillwater Library and Aug. 26 at the Maplewood Library.

19 comments

  1. More than just one librarian is outraged. As written, entire amendment is an outrage.

  2. $90 per person.

  3. We had $2000 to spend on authors and I have had 4 come to our library – the 2 adult authors were Lorna Landvik and William Kent Krueger. Wonderful, well-known, entertaining authors. Thankfully, they didn’t charge even 5% of the above author’s fees or our patrons would have missed out on some tremendous presentations. I am also thankful that our Library system is much more fiscally respnsible.

  4. Mr Gaiman comments at

    http://www.libraryjournal.com/blog/1010000101/post/1620054162.html

    If you chose not to click through, the final bit at least is worth reading, and I’ll quote it here:

    [...] when I get money like this, I put it back out again. In this case, 25% of what I get goes to a social/abuse charity, and the other 75% goes to an author/literature/library related charity program.

    Don’t forget that the man is a highly respected author — and internationally famous, not just domestically. It’s a real feather-in-the-cap for the group that invites him to speak. I believe they made the right choice.

  5. This issue is NOT about Neil Gaiman. He IS a wonderful author and human being, but that is not the focus here. This issue is about the WASTE of taxpayer money. If we want to support a charity, WE should be able to do that from our own pocketbooks. We pay taxes so WE BENEFIT FROM THAT “FUND.” That $45,000 DID NOT stay in our community–it went to Neil Gaiman. What Neil Gaiman does with his money is HIS business. Good for him. But at a time when my neighbors, brother-in-law and very own mother CANNOT find work, it sickens me to think that this money has gone down the tubes.

    Oh, I forgot, it goes to OTHER charities–anything but to our own communities, family and friends.

    Whatever makes you feel good.

  6. This is a good example of something that public libraries struggle with all the time: justifying the benefits of expenditures, critical in these days of shrinking funds. The struggle is not only in the defense of these funds to the public, but to fellow librarians as well, as we see above in the replies. Rightfully so. When funds are flush, everyone takes things for granted. But as Ken Haycock of San Jose State University said once, “When the water dried up in the jungle, all the animals start looking at each other much differently.” We can all claim to be more fiscally responsible than other libraries, and say “shame, shame” to others; but seriously, should we be? As we read above, Gaiman puts much of that money right back into the non-profit pool. And if he didn’t, would we even then have a right to judge too harshly? We do not know all the details of how this library spends its money, nor should we. We are in a position of being damned if we do, and damned if we don’t. If we don’t put on high-profile events every so often, we put another nail in not only our own coffin, but that of other libraries as well. To create a customer base, you have to spend money, no differently than any for-profit business.
    I just want to be the voice of the mediator here.

  7. One sentence said it all. “We had this money left over so we have to SPEND it”. This is the same attitude that schools, government and all social agencies have. You NEVER underspend your budget because next year, it will NOT raise.
    How nice it would be if this money went to libraries and etc, RATHER than speakers. With the number of people out of work, this mentally is SICKENING.
    TAX, TAX, TAX, – SPEND, SPEND, SPEND. This has to stop.

  8. Grace Heitkamp

    Is this the way to keep taxpayers on the side of art-related funding? I am sickened by this waste of money. And my god, Garrison Keillor has to be paid to appear at MN Libraries?!!!!

  9. Hey, Gaiman has to find some way to pay for those expensive luxurious getaways at swank Casablanca hotels, the silver Jag and the huge Scottish hideaway. Somebody has to pay for those! Give the man a break!

  10. From Gaiman’s blog, about this craziness:

    “I’ve never been to Green Lake. Actually I live about half an hour away from Stillwater. Apparently people start lying when they want to use you as a political football.”

    http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2010/05/political-football-in-teacup.html

    Ms. Sundquist has had two and a half weeks to check her facts and post a correction; presumably at this point, she isn’t going to.

    And more generally: if you want a government to stop wasting money, stop electing career politicians/bureaucrats to it. Particularly Democrats (and no, DFL Democrats aren’t better), but anybody who’s made a career of using positions of authority to make rules that don’t apply to themselves personally and distribute money that isn’t theirs. Human nature can’t be wished, voted or legislated away.

  11. @9 GHT: Gaiman donates money he earns from speaking fees to charity. The rest of his belongings he’s paid for (and I’m assuming here) from the earnings of his multiple bestselling books and movie deals. What a jerk, right! OMG.

    @OP Ms. Sundquist: Good job on the “scare quotes” around the “never been” in your lame retraction. You’re definitely a “respectable” journalist.

    @Everyone: Promoting culture and the arts is part of the purpose of the Legacy Fund. Exposing hundreds of people to an afternoon of a world-famous bestselling author is as good of a use of public money as anything, since no individual would be able to afford Gaiman’s speaking fee.

  12. “We pay taxes so WE BENEFIT FROM THAT “FUND.” That $45,000 DID NOT stay in our community–it went to Neil Gaiman.”

    Well, er, the fund you’re talking about–the arts and cultural heritage part if the fund–isn’t meant to give money to the people in the community. It’s meant to pay for “arts and cultural heritage” EXPERIENCE for the community. So yes, it did go to your community–the Stillwater community got to have the experience of a fairly intimate reading and meet & greet with Neil Gaiman. Whether or not you feel that experience was worth $45,000 is another matter.

    “How nice it would be if this money went to libraries and etc, RATHER than speakers.”

    That would indeed be nice. However, as legislated, it CANNOT have gone “to libraries and etc” in any way you seem to mean if it were not spent. I also think it’s too bad that, having extra funds, the library cannot choose to not spend it on a speaker but rather funnel it to other much-needed projects, but the problem then is in legislature. (I suppose if it were not spent at all, it would go back into the general state budget and there’d be hearings on what to do with it… unfortunately one has little control over where it would eventually be spent that way, either.

  13. Does anyone know if the legacy fund can be repealed?

  14. Victor Raymond

    Ms. Sundquist’s column simply reveals how ignorant many people are about a variety of subjects, ranging from who Neil Gaiman is to what is an appropriate amount for a speaking fee. It’s actually pretty embarrassing to read. Speakers can charge considerable amounts of money, and it is to Mr. Gaiman’s credit that he made a donation of the money to two other charities. In a very real way, this money not only made it possible for Stillwater’s residents to have a cultural event (no matter what anyone thinks of it), but it also will go to sustain two more non-profits. What’s the problem here? As for objections to to size of the fee, I suggest you look at the much larger amounts of money charged by people far less gracious than Mr. Gaiman. I would suggest that Ms. Sundquist and the anonymous librarian get some clarity in their perspective? And if there *was* some editorial \guidance\ in the slant on this article, I would hope Ms. Sundquist would own up to it.

  15. Let’s put a little bit of perspective on government expenditures: my husband was the commander of the Minneapolis Bomb Squad until 5 years ago, when he was injured by a blast. He has a brain injury, and is unable to work. The state worker’s compensation system uses a formula to decide how much compensation you should receive for permanent loss of body function when you have been injured on the job. For a brain injury serious enough that you need some supervision for daily living, for the rest of your life, the compensation is about $40,000. So a cops LIFE is worth less than a few hours of an author’s time.

  16. “Hey, Gaiman has to find some way to pay for those expensive luxurious getaways at swank Casablanca hotels, the silver Jag and the huge Scottish hideaway. Somebody has to pay for those! Give the man a break!”

    Yeah, there’s no way he could afford that from his multi-million selling book career, nor the numerous films he’s written. Moron.

  17. Charity? Gaiman donates his money to the cult of Scientology.

    In 2009 he donated $35,000.00

    And in 2010, Neil Gaiman donated another $500,000.00 to Scientology through his business partner Mary Gaiman who received a “Gold Humanitarian Award” for contributing to Ideal Org, MN.

    Neil Gaiman and Mary Gaiman are business partners in The Blank Corporation and are funneling millions of dollars into Scientology.

    The Gaiman family also derive a 6 million dollar income annually from G&G vitamins founded by the now deceased David Gaiman. G&G Vitamins has a monopoly to sell the purification rundown worldwide.
    http://forums.whyweprotest.net/304-celebrity-news/neil-gaimans-scieno-front-65295/

  18. Wow, an attack on his Scientologist family and ex-wife. Certainly didn’t see that coming. Way to respond to the conversation at hand.

    This oughtn’t be a debate over whether or not Neil Gaiman deserved the fee he was paid. It’s a question of the allocation of funds as dictated by those who divided the money. It looks to me that, since the money could not have been spent on anything other than author visit fees, the forty-five grand was spent as well as it could have been. Gaiman is a brilliant author and a good person.

  19. Gaiman belongs to a dangerous cult. The fee paid will go to Scientology, a psychologically and physically abusive cult, as exemplified by their Rehabilitation Project Force (RPF) where Prison camps are run for “Sea Org” members in Los Angeles, Clearwater FL, Copenhagen and other sites. Scientology front groups like Narconon prey on people who have fallen through the cracks of society. Gaiman is a hypocrite and his loyalties are with the Scientology. Who allocated the funds to Gaiman? Are they connected to Scientology?

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