Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Economic Power of Arts and Culture in the Northland

Wednesday I attended a special presentation at The Underground by Sheila Smith of the Minnesota Citizens for the Arts regarding new data about the impact of the arts in Minnesota. The economic impact of the non-profit arts sector is nothing short of remarkable, especially since it has been essentially undocumented until recently. Ken Bloom, executive director of the Tweed Museum of Art on the campus of UMD made a few introductory remarks before inviting Ms. Smith to make her prepared presentation.

The report that was released two weeks ago is based on the most comprehensive study ever conducted. The aim was to document with data the impact of the arts on quality of life, the economy and more.

Smith being interviewed before the program by local media.
Smith noted that in this particular study the data was based on arts organizations, not individual artists. The foremost finding was that the arts has an economic impact of 1.2 billion dollars on the state of Minnesota, up 43% since 2006. According to the study 62,378 volunteers gave more than 2.7 million volunteer hours in a year.

What was of special interest to me is how non-local attendees brought financial benefits to the community. Non-locals spend 80% more when attending local arts and cultural events than the locals do, who often skip eating out or going for after-event activities.

The reason these stats interest me is because of the insights gained from research about music-based tourism. I've developed a strong conviction that it would be beneficial to the Northland to let the world know that Bob Dylan, and artist and one of the most significant singer/songwriters of the past fifty year, was born and raised here. Liverpool tourism created a positive economic impact of more than 40% once they created Strawberry Fields and other touchstones for Beatles fans. Graceland brings 600,000 Elvis fans per year who spend money in that community. If each spent $100, that would be, $60,000,000 that Memphis businesses (and the community by virtue of taxes) might not have otherwise each year.

The influence of arts and culture on communities is significant in a variety of ways beyond economic, though a legislator or community leader would be hard-pressed to ignore these factors. Here in the Northland the economic impact has been $40 million, the second highest of anywhere in Minnesota other than the Twin Cities Metro. We're second in economic impact even though only fourth in population.

For details on the study, visit the website where you can download the report. Be sure to read and review the data. Many of us have been aware that  it's a very exciting time with regards to the arts herein the Northland. Now, we have documentation of why this has been an exciting time.

After Sheila Smith spoke, Jan Sievertson of SiVi's gallery in Grand Marais and Canal Park spoke very briefly, noting that the arts are thriving, that the arts are essential and that all Minnesotans are benefitting. Sievertson shared an anecdote about how the arts have united disparate elements in Grand Marais. Tea Party conservatives and liberals have worked together to maintain high aesthetic standards for the city, which has gained a reputation over more than a half century for its arts and culture.

Young Man with Impish Smile
A third speaker shared how the arts is becoming more integrated in Duluth city council activities and enterprises. Look for new developments with the Duluth Public Arts Commission. Beginning a couple years ago the city council began the practice of each member selecting a piece of artwork from the DAI Member Show to hang in the city council chambers. That first year one of my pieces -- Young Man with Impish Smile -- was selected, which I found to be pretty cool.

Finally, Sue Gens talked briefly on the importance of this study. Frequently, arts advocates get questioned by legislators and business people regarding how important the arts really are. "What difference does it make?" they ask. This study demonstrates what an important asset the arts really are. The arts mean healthy communities.

Gens closed by stating that jobs don't produce quality of life. "Just look at what is going on in North Dakota," she said. "Rather, quality of life produces jobs. This is what appears to be happening in Duluth." Most assuredly, and many concur.

Based on the data, the arts are making a difference in many measurable ways.

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Youth Art Month at the Duluth Art Institute

Yesterday it was appropriately announced that March will be Youth Art Month at the DAI. They will hold an Opening Reception next Thursday, March 5, 5-7 pm. The exhibition will be on view from March 5 – 25, 2015 in the Depot's Great Hall

The announcement included this factoid: A recent study published in the New York Times shows a causal relationship between students experiencing art and higher test scores. With education funding for the arts under constant threat, it’s refreshing to focus on the depth of talent we have in teachers and students. This exhibit celebrates the unique excellence that is coming out of our local and regional public schools.

March is Youth Art Month and the Duluth Art Institute visited 10 schools from the region to showcase the creativity being expressed in our young artists. As I travel I have seen increasing numbers of art exhibits in airports around the country, many featuring the art of young people. In this case you won't have to fly anywhere. Just meander down to the Depot. It may surprise you all that is going on.

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Dig it.

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