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Friday, August 29, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 84.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Arts Beat: Wisconsin poet laureateship will endure despite governor's cuts
Walker versus verse
Dethlefsen's term runs through 2012.
Dethlefsen's term runs through 2012.
Credit:Alex Ebert

Not content to merely reduce funding in state aid to the arts by 73%, Gov. Scott Walker will also pull back $2,000 from his office's support of the Wisconsin poet laureate. The program is otherwise self-supporting.

"From what we can gather, Gov. Walker has used the elimination of the poet laureate as a symbol of how ably he has had his people look at the budget and make the cuts that they've made," says George Tzougros, executive director of the State of Wisconsin Arts Board.

The state's Poet Laureate Commission is part of the governor's office. It was created by executive order of Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson in 2000. Since then, the state has had four poets laureate.

Besides citizens, the Poet Laureate Commission's members are drawn from organizations including the Council for Wisconsin Writers, the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets and the Arts Board. The term of the current poet laureate, Bruce Dethlefsen of Westfield, expires at the end of 2012. Despite the proposed cut, the position will continue.

The governor's office in the past has allocated $2,000 in travel expenses for the poet laureate. The program is otherwise privately supported. The Wisconsin Poet Laureate Fund is an endowment within the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region. Interest from it supports the activities of the chosen poet and the commission.

The poet laureate is required to lead at least one large-scale project that contributes to the growth of Wisconsin poetry, and to attend at least four statewide literary events each year, besides performing in at least four government and civil events as requested by the governor's office, school systems and literary organizations.

For information on the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission, including how to donate, visit

Meanwhile, some members of the Arts Board are taking the unusual step of educating legislators about the importance of their own state agency. They're visiting lawmakers and presenting evidence showing the economic as well as cultural benefits of supporting the arts. Citizen members of the board, including its chair, former Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton, are expected to take part.

Under Walker's budget, the Arts Board will be moved to the Department of Tourism. State aid to the arts will drop from $2.4 million to $759,000.

Arts Wisconsin, a statewide advocacy group, held its annual Arts Day on March 3. The event was likewise designed to help educate legislators about the value of the arts.

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