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Emerging arts economy offers nearly $1 million impact in Renville County

Tom Cherveny / Tribune Paul Heyl, a supporter of the arts in Bird Island, discusses the importance of the recent study on the economic importance of the arts in Renville County, presented Tuesday at the Bird Island Culture Centre. 1 / 2
Tom Cherveny / Tribune The economic impact of arts and culture organizations in Renville County is nearly $1 million a year, Sheila Smith, executive director of the Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, told a small audience Tuesday at the Bird Island Culture Centre. 2 / 2

BIRD ISLAND — An arts economy is taking root in Renville County, a new study suggests, and there are plenty of people who want to see it grow.

A newly released study by Creative Minnesota tallied the economic impact of arts and culture organizations, audiences and artists in Renville County in the past year at $952,080, according to Sheila Smith, executive director of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts and chair of Creative Minnesota. She reported on the study's findings Tuesday to a small gathering at the Bird Island Culture Centre.

The study found that Renville County is home to 113 people who make all or part of their incomes in creative endeavors, doing everything from painting and other fine arts to working in careers such as graphic design, writing or photography. Of the total, 85 are working part-time and 27 full-time in the arts.

That works out to about 15 creative workers per 1,000 people in the workforce, a relatively low ratio. Some rural counties that have promoted their arts economy have as many as 35 creative workers per 1,000 in the workforce, according to Smith.

Those speaking at the event in Bird Island believe the study indicates that an arts economy is emerging in the county. They also believe that it can best be grown through cooperative ventures on a regional scale.

"We have a lot to offer here regionally," said Dan Coughlin, Olivia's city administrator. "We really can seize on what we have, enhance it," he said.

"The ingredients are starting to form and coalesce and the bread is going to start to rise," said Patrick Moore, communications director for Pioneer TV.

Moore was instrumental in the 2003 launch of the Upper Minnesota River Valley Arts Crawl, or Meander, in which artists in a five-county region work together to promote their works during an annual two-day event. Last year the Meander generated sales worth $111,920 over its two-day run, representing average sales of $2,870 for each of the participating artists.

Moore said he sees the same type of cooperation taking shape in Renville County to capitalize on its arts and culture resources. He believes that by working cooperatively, the region will see continued growth in the arts economy and attract people who appreciate a rural lifestyle.

"We are poised to be the destination because, you know what, we know how to raise kids. We are a garden of good citizenship. We have water, we have food, we have good soil, we have safe streets and we have good schools, we have available housing and a sense of community that everybody wants," Moore said.

Renville County also has a lot of history to tell, and that emerged as one of its leading assets in the arts and culture economy.

Renville County has 11 nonprofit arts and culture organizations, of which five are focused on historical preservation, Smith said.

"Quite a lot for one county," she said.

She noted that in most counties, the majority of organizations are usually those involved in the performing arts, including theater, music or dance.

"Clearly, history is a big focus," she said of Renville County.

By the numbers in 2017

$952,080: Economic impact of arts and culture organizations, audiences and artists in Renville County.

$18.10: The average hourly wage for creative workers in Renville County, as compared to $18.00 average for all workers.

15: Number of creative jobs per 1,000 jobs in Renville County.

113: Total number of artists and creative workers, of which 27 are full-time and 85 part-time.

17,000: The audience reported by nine of the 11 nonprofit arts and cultural organizations in the county that tracked attendance.

Source: Creative Minnesota

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

(320) 214-4335
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