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MN2020 - Duluth Defines Art of Economic Development
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Duluth Defines Art of Economic Development

May 01, 2013 By Lee Egerstrom, Economic Development Fellow

There is something akin to a springtime stampede in Duluth this week. Only part of it has to do with the popular group Trampled by Turtles.

At least 7,500 visitors and fans of Northeastern Minnesota bands and vocal groups are making the rounds in Duluth and Superior for the 15th annual Homegrown Music Festival (April 28-May 5).

By this time next year, we may have some idea about the fest's economic contributions. “We’re keeping records. We hope to do an analysis this year,” said Adam Guggemos, publisher of the arts and entertainment Transistor magazine in the Twin Ports metro area.

The findings will be helpful as national and local organizations have scaled back economic analysis of arts and culture since the Great Recession. That is starting to change, said Jeff Prauer, executive director of the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council in St. Paul. Most arts and cultural organizations are submitting information to the Minnesota Cultural Data Project, which was started last June. Part of a national CDP effort, it will help communities, groups, nonprofits and arts and cultural leaders improve management operations. 

Nearly all of Minnesota's major foundations are financially supporting the data gathering project, including those dedicated to the arts such as the F.R. Bigelow Foundation, Jerome Foundation, and Mardag Foundation.

Prauer said participation is just beginning, making it difficult to derive meaning from initial data. However, he said, the Minnesota State Arts Board estimates the arts have $1 billion in economic impact annually for the state, attracting businesses, visitors, and new residents. It tallies more than 30,000 artists living in the state and 1,600 arts organizations. It cites reports noting that arts have stimulated business development and town centers at Fergus Falls, Grand Rapids, New York Mills and Lanesboro, and that arts organizations spend $4 million annually in St. Cloud while arts audiences spend another $5.8 million in the central Minnesota city. The arts board noted that cultural tourists spend an average of $614 per trip, compared to $425 for other travelers.

Economic value isn’t easy to assign to quality of life factors although researchers know people want to live, work and play where there are cultural and art amenities. Along that vein, the arts board lists poll data showing 67 percent of Minnesotans have attended an arts event within the past year, 60 percent are actually engaged with arts from singing in choirs, doing woodworking or needlepoint, writing poetry or painting; and 95 percent of Minnesotans believe the arts are “essential” to the education of children.

While numbers have changed in recent years, a thorough input-output study from 2006, commissioned by the Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, showed that all regions of the state had more than $1 million in arts-related economic impact in 2004. The Twin Cities metro area had an arts and culture economy two-and-a-half times larger than comparable size areas, including San Diego and Houston.

Duluth and the Arrowhead region were the second largest arts economy behind the Twin Cities. Residents were spending $11.2 million in attending arts events; non-residents were spending $12.7 million. Residents were spending $19.48 and non-residents $44.95 as audience members in the Duluth area, exceeding state averages of $16.16 for residents and $36.89 for visitors.

This is playing out again this week in Duluth.

Asked what his position is with the Homeground Festival, Guggemos said, “I’m wood putty. I fill in the cracks.” Weather is challenging those utilitarian skills. A Duluth park intended for a Friday concert was covered by three inches of water Tuesday morning.

Nonetheless, a total of 188 local or formerly local bands tied to Duluth-Superior are participating indoors at 33 different nightclubs, restaurants and other venues during Homegrown week. Trampled by Turtles may be the biggest name among the groups; other bands and ensembles are offering a wide assortment of music styles.

Guggemos said it appeared early on that ticket purchases for the week were about 10 to 20 percent ahead of a year ago. Gathering data may help planning in future years, he said. But with a wry, Duluth-like assessment of the planning for the festival, he added, “We’ve been doing everything wrong so far. It’s been working out okay.”


Photo credit: Mark Schindler, creative commons

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