Arts and cultural organizations have $8.4 million annual impact in Bemidji

The study found that the 28 Bemidji arts and cultural organizations spent $5.1 million, while attendees and patrons spent an additional $3.3 million.

Hundreds of people browsed more than 75 booths on Saturday in Library Park and near the Watermark Art Center during the 52nd annual Art in the Park event in 2019. (Pioneer file photo)

BEMIDJI -- Arts and cultural organizations and events have an $8.4 million annual impact on the city of Bemidji, according to a report presented Monday to the city council.

“I found the report stunning,” said Sandy Kaul, a member of the city’s Public Arts Commission. “It feels like somebody’s patting the artists and the cultural workers on the back a little bit, which feels really good.”

The study was conducted in 2019 by Creative Minnesota, Minnesota Citizens for the Arts and the city of Bemidji. It included 28 events and nonprofit arts and cultural organizations, ranging from the performing arts such as Bemidji Community Theater and Show Choirs of Bemidji to venues like Gallery North and the Watermark Art Center.

Brenda Kayzar, a research associate with Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, made the virtual presentation to the city council. She said the study found that the 28 organizations spent $5.1 million, while attendees and patrons spent an additional $3.3 million.



“A huge thank you to this community when you look at the impact it has on this city,” Ward 1 Councilor Audrey Thayer said. “That’s a positive, why we love Bemidji so much, is because of the arts in so many different genres.”

Dave Hengel, executive director of Greater Bemidji Economic Development, said the report affirms the community’s quality.

“When companies and talent can locate virtually anywhere, regions have to ask themselves, ‘Why here?’” Hengel said. “Our vibrant arts scene is a big piece to the quality-of-life puzzle that separates us from other regional centers. Our commitment to the arts is one of the things that surprises visitors about Bemidji. The Sculpture Walk, Watermark Art Center, Sanford Center, Bemidji Community Theater, Vocalmotive, Mississippi Music and other live music downtown … the list goes on and on.”

Kaul said the positive news comes at a time when artists have used their creativity to cope with the coronavirus pandemic, and they’re looking forward to returning to face-to-face interactions with patrons.

Artists have taken to the internet, she said, “sharing their work that way if they’re a visual artist, and I think the artists are being really creative about how to communicate with the public. There’s music online and on websites. They have found a way to share their work with others.”

Thayer said she appreciates how art venues and events can bring people of different cultures together.

“When you look at opportunities for our community to communicate culturally and cross culturally, the Miikanan Gallery, Watermark, Art in the Park, all of those events have created growth for our city,” she said.


Ward 3 Councilor Ron Johnson said Bemidji’s reputation as an active arts community is spreading in Minnesota.

“With my involvement with statewide organizations, I know the comments I get about the city of Bemidji and the arts,” Johnson said. “You’re starting to see other cities try to replicate that. They’re realizing how important it is for a community, and for somebody who’s looking to relocate to a community. It’s a big part of what they look for when they’re trying to find a town to move to. People are pretty mobile now, and they can work from anywhere.”

Creative Minnesota was developed by a collaborative of arts and culture funders in partnership with Minnesota Citizens for the Arts. The statewide and regional reports, as well as additional research about Minnesota’s arts and cultural community, can be downloaded at

Dennis Doeden, former publisher of the Bemidji Pioneer, is a feature reporter. He is a graduate of Metropolitan State University with a degree in Communications Management.
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