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Creative Minnesota: another story of Minnesota exceptionalism

An astonishing 104,000 people work as artists and creative workers in Minnesota, and every region of the state has a robust arts economy. But there are still reasons for concern.

A recent report from Creative Minnesota highlights the positive impact being made here by artists and creative workers. The study found that every region of the state has a robust arts economy, from the prairies of southwest Minnesota to the busy Twin Cities area to the tourist magnet of the North Shore. The combined economic impact of nonprofit arts organizations, their audiences, and artists and creative workers statewide is over $2 billion, making Minnesota’s arts economy double the size of Wisconsin’s even though we have roughly the same population. (It is 10½ times that of Kansas, and 12½ times that of South Dakota).

Photo by Adam Kissick
Sheila Smith

Clearly, if you are a young, creative person looking for a job in a creative field in the Midwest, you should load up your car and move to Minnesota.

Minnesotans’ thoughts and actions

Surveys show the unique relationship of Minnesotans to the arts. Minnesotans strongly believe that the arts and culture are important to their quality of life, and, on average, Minnesotans attend and participate in the arts more often than other Americans. Minnesotans are 8 percent more likely to attend arts and culture events and 14 percent more likely to be personally involved in creative activity in their everyday life than the average American. Ninety-one percent of Minnesotans believe that people who create art are contributing something important to their communities, and 90 percent believe that arts and culture activities help make Minnesota an attractive place to live and work. Most also believe it is important to have the opportunity to express themselves creatively or to experience the creativity of others every day. These numbers help explain why Minnesotans consider the arts to be crucial to the state’s quality of life.

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High levels of activity by artists and arts and culture organizations also bring added benefits for the state’s budget. Artists and nonprofit arts and culture organizations spend money in their communities, hiring people, renting studio space and buying supplies at the hardware store. State and local government revenue in the form of income and sales taxes exceeded $222 million a year in 2014. That is over five times the amount that the arts received in public funding.

Minnesota is home to 1,601 nonprofit arts and culture organizations, which served 22 million attendees at arts and cultural events in 2014. On average, Minnesota’s 5.6 million residents attend four events a year. But it is not only Minnesotans who attend arts and culture events. People come from all over the Midwest and beyond to participate, making up roughly 15 percent of arts and culture attendees.

Experiences for students

Minnesota’s arts and culture organizations also provide 3.8 million K-12 students with cultural experiences, hosting 29,318 school group visits each year. With approximately 900,000 K-12 students in Minnesota, on average every student is participating four times a year in arts and cultural activities provided by these nonprofits, many of them for free, because of funding from the Legacy Amendment. (Minnesotans passed the Legacy Amendment in 2008, creating dedicated state funding for the arts and the environment).

An astonishing 104,000 people work as artists and creative workers in Minnesota. Twenty-four percent of self-identified artists are employed full time as artists; 42 percent are part time; and the rest, 34 percent, are retired, hobbyists or students. About 70 percent of these people live in the metro area. It’s important to note that artists live in every corner of the state, however, and while there are of course high-density clusters of creative workers in Hennepin and Ramsey counties, Benton, Carver, Cass, Cook, Martin and Marshall counties also had high densities of creative workers.

Still reasons for concern

The arts and culture industry in Minnesota is growing, but there are still reasons for concern and work for us to do. For example, the study found that women and artists of color make less from their work than other artists, mirroring wage disparities in the larger workforce.

A recent Minnesota State Arts Board survey found that there are five things that artists need to help them be more successful making a living as a creative worker:

  1. Artists need a space to work and access to tools of their trade.
  2. Artists have shown a strong interest in opportunities to connect more with each other and more opportunities to serve their communities.
  3. Younger, emerging artists are looking for a chance to learn new skills while more experienced, professional artists would like to pass on their skills. Creating mentorships and partnerships to transfer skills to a new generation would be beneficial to all.
  4. Artists would like to learn new ways to develop a paying audience and generate income from their work. We all like to get paid for what we do, but this can be a hurdle to the newer and unestablished artist. Wider access to workshops and other classes on arts business development would be helpful.
  5. Last, but not least, artists want to reach an ever-wider audience and markets.

Good place to be an artist

Despite these needs, 85 percent of arts graduates say that the Twin Cities is a “Good” or “Very Good” place to be an artist. Being an attractive place for creative workers is a great thing for Minnesota’s future, because in addition to being part of many growing industries, artists are very civically engaged. Artists and arts advocates give back to their communities more than the average American. Eighty-eight percent of artists volunteer their time to community activities and events. That compares to 35 percent of all Minnesotans and 25 percent of all Americans who volunteer time for their local communities.

For more information, the statewide Creative Minnesota 2017 report as well as 11 new regional studies can be downloaded for free here, where you can also find the study’s data sources.

Creative Minnesota is a collaborative project of the state’s arts supporting organizations in partnership with Minnesota Citizens for the Arts (MCA). The Creative Minnesota Team includes MCA, The McKnight, Jerome, Bush, and Mardag foundations, Target, the Minnesota State Arts Board and Forum of Regional Arts Councils of Minnesota, Springboard for the Arts, The Minnesota Theater Alliance, with in-kind support from the Center for Urban and Rural Affairs at the U of M, Ideas that Kick, City of Minneapolis and others.

Sheila Smith is the executive director of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts and the chair of Creative Minnesota.


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