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Economic development, arts equal winning combination

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A healthy arts community enhances the quality of life on both intangible and tangible levels.

A study of the economic impact of nonprofit arts organizations throughout Minnesota has now provided concrete data to back up the tangible effects. According to the study using 2004 nonprofit organizations' budgets and 2005 audience responses, every one of the 11 regions in the state found more than $1 million in positive economic impact from the arts.

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In Region 2 North Central Minnesota -- Beltrami, Clearwater, Hubbard, Mahnomen and Lake of the Woods counties -- the impact was nearly $2 million during the study period. The nonprofit arts and culture industry in this area also supported 54 full-time jobs.

For-profit arts and individual artists were not included in the study, according to Sheila Smith, executive director of the Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, which organized the study and collected the data.

As a result of demonstrating hard data, support for the arts is included in bills moving in both the Minnesota House and Senate at this time. At the local level, she said during a meeting with members of the Bemidji arts community on Monday afternoon, the study should encourage county boards and city councils to include the arts in their economic planning.

"Support for the arts is an important economic tool," Smith said.

The arts also have an impact on the tourism industry in north central Minnesota. The study showed that 37 percent of the area's arts and culture attendees are non-residents. Residents spend an average of $14.99 per person per event, but non-residents spent $39.11 per person per event.

These figures show the potential of the arts as tourism draws, and that more visitors are spending more money in north central Minnesota on the arts than in other regions, Smith said.

"You are drawing people here to see arts events and they're spending money in town," she said. "Across the board, out-of-towners spend more."

Area art festivals, musical events, wood carvers' gatherings, community and professional theater all encourage tourists from around the country and Canada to visit the area.

Other aspects of the study Smith noted are the demographics of the audiences. In north central Minnesota, 13 percent were younger than age 34 and 39 percent were between 35 and 54. And 54 percent reported a household income of less than $60,000 annually.

"I think this is a myth-buster because people constantly talk about how 'Art is for rich people,'" Smith said. "It's not how much money you make. It's how you want to live."

Smith said the next studies will look at the economic impact of individual artists and then the for-profit arts organizations.

Further data and arts opportunities are available at mtn.org/mca.

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