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What a difference the arts can make here in the North Country. While our region has long attracted artists inspired by the region’s natural beauty, our area communities are benefitting from an abundance of public art and entertainment, the likes of which we haven’t seen before.
From quality community theater produced by the Northern Lakes Arts Association in Ely to the Ely Winter Festival and Art Walk, to the Northern Lights Music Festival, to the Pickup Truck Opera that entertained audiences across our area this past week, the sounds, colors, and motion of public performance have been lighting up our area communities this summer.
And it’s not by accident. Over the past 14 years, voter-approved sales tax dollars from the Minnesota Legacy Amendment to the state’s constitution have made possible an unprecedented state investment in a number of areas, including in public arts and culture. That’s benefitted groups like Northwoods Friends of the Arts in Cook as well as the Arrowhead Regional Library System, which has been able to offer arts and cultural programming not available in the past. It’s almost certain to provide some operational and programming support for the Lake Vermilion Cultural Center once its building is fully completed. It’s also benefitted individual artists, who have been able to pursue public art projects, from murals to sculpture to performance, that might otherwise not have been possible.
Since enactment of the amendment in 2009, the funding has directed over $705 million toward artistic and cultural projects and programming statewide. That’s created a blossoming of public art, which has enlivened our area communities and enhanced the quality of life for millions of Minnesotans.
Minnesota has long had a reputation for supporting the arts. Before passage of the legacy amendment, Minnesota was in the top ten (ninth to be exact) among states in per-capita investment in the arts. Today, Minnesota ranks number one, investing an average of about six dollars per person. It’s amazing what that six dollars can buy, especially for communities outside the Twin Cities metropolitan area, where the impact has been the most profound.
The arts aren’t just good entertainment. They’re good business, too. In fact, a 2019 study by the nonprofit group Creative Minnesota, concluded that the arts generated nearly a $100 million in economic activity in the seven-county Arrowhead region alone. That included money spent by audiences as well as the incomes generated by the artists themselves.
That impact is helped by the fact that the Arrowhead region regularly ranks second in their participation in arts programming among the state’s eleven regions. Residents here in the North Country are eager for arts programming and we show up when it’s available.
There is evidence that an active arts community is good for seemingly unrelated businesses as well. A 2017 study by the National Endowment for the Arts and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, found that rural counties with active arts communities or performing arts centers were more likely to attract new and innovative businesses. It’s an interesting correlation and the researchers concluded that innovative individuals, who are more likely to start innovative businesses, were more likely to locate in areas with an active arts scene. In effect, the arts act as a kind of magnet for innovative people— the kind that bring new vitality to communities and economies.
That new vitality is becoming evident in communities in our region, and we believe the arts are playing a role in making it happen. It’s something to celebrate.
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