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The Great White North: Arts & Culture Economic Impact Road Show

When Minnesota Citizens for the Arts unveiled its new economic impact report early this month, the effect the state’s nearly 1600 cultural organizations have on local economies caught our attention: these groups bring in well over three-quarters of a billion dollars each year. Sheila Smith, Executive Director of MCA, has agreed to sign on as […]

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When Minnesota Citizens for the Arts unveiled its new economic impact report early this month, the effect the state’s nearly 1600 cultural organizations have on local economies caught our attention: these groups bring in well over three-quarters of a billion dollars each year. Sheila Smith, Executive Director of MCA, has agreed to sign on as guest blogger to share the findings. Smith teaches and lectures nationally about the arts and grassroots advocacy.

I’m driving somewhere north of Bemidji on the “ Great White North Arts & Culture Economic Impact Study Road Show” and it’s snowing. We’re bringing the Word to city councils, county commissioners, local press and legislators across the state – that the arts have a huge economic impact Minnesota and that includes Where You Live.

A new research report, “ The Arts: A Driving Force in Minnesota’s Economy” was released on March 9, 2006 as part of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts’ Arts Advocacy Day. Supporters took the research to legislators to talk about why the arts are important across the state. Here’s the news they delivered: Minnesota’s non-profit arts community has an annual economic impact of over $838.5 million, and over 1500 non-profit arts organizations serve more than 14.5 million people per year – far exceeding the annual attendance of all of our professional sports teams combined.

We know that the most important reasons to support the arts are vibrant communities, smart, well educated kids and the expression of new ideas. But some people don’t understand anything until you explain it to them in numbers. So here we go: over 22,000 Minnesota jobs depend upon the arts. In fact, the arts support more jobs in Minnesota than the mining industry (about 5000). There are even more people whose jobs are supported by the arts than we have dentists (about 14,000).

What makes this groundbreaking research is that in addition to the statewide report we did eleven regional reports. The study partners: MCA, The Forum of Regional Arts Councils and Americans for the Arts, collected nearly 7000 audience intercept surveys statewide. This ridiculously huge over-sample provided some astonishing detail.

The eleven regional studies show that every area of Minnesota, no matter how rural, had at least $1 million in annual economic impact from the arts. Even more interesting, the most rural regions had the highest per capita spending by non-residents, showing a direct link between an area’s arts activities and people coming from out of town to spend money as tourists. That’s a strong incentive for all regions to find more ways to fund and promote the arts as a way to jump-start their economies.

The second, third and fourth largest arts economies in Minnesota are the regions that include Duluth, Rochester and Fergus Falls/Moorhead. With arts economies ranging from $31 to $8 million respectively, the research shows that it’s a myth that the arts are a purely Twin Cities phenomena.

The Big Kahuna is still the Seven County Metro Area, with over half of the state’s population and over $719.5 million in economic impact from its large and diverse nonprofit arts community. This area’s arts economy is two and a half times larger than that of other metro areas studied by Americans for the Arts with similar populations like San Diego, CA and Houston, TX. With the arts being such a driving force in the Seven County Metro Area’s economy, public decision makers need to take notice and be more purposeful about making the arts a part of their economic development strategies.

Clearly, the research shows that communities have a lot to gain when they encourage and support the arts. But they need to understand it. And that’s why we’re out here with our Road Show, looking for a chance to run through the numbers and make some converts. Last week it was St. Paul, Rochester and Mankato. This week it’s Bemidji, Hallock, Staples and Duluth. Watch for us. We’ll be driving soon to a town near you.

  • Reggie Prim says:

    While I sometimes feel its defeating to argue for arts’ instrumental and economic value, I agree with Sheila that folks only read value in economic terms. And this study as well as Anne Markusen‘s new study Artists’ Centers: Evolution and Impact on Careers, Neighborhoods, and Economies and her older work

    Artistic Dividend: The Arts’ Hidden Contributions to Regional Development as well as work such as Mark Stern’s Social Impact of the Arts Project (www.sp2.upenn.edu/SIAP/), clearly argue the huge impact the arts have on economies and quality of life. It feels like way past time when political leaders would recognize the value of the arts but I guess we have to keep telling them. Thanks Sheila for taking the word to the people. Rock on!