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Ann Markusen

Ann Markusen

Centers for the artist

New study shows art centers' impact on Minnesota's creative economy

By Jamie Proulx

February 28, 2006

A new study from the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, "Artists' Centers: Evolution and Impact on Artists, Neighborhoods, and Economies," shows that Minnesota's strong creative economy owes much of its success to the unusual number and quality of dedicated gathering spaces for artists in the state. Minnesota is home to dozens of artists' centers that provide workspace, equipment, and networking opportunities for amateur and professional writers, musicians, and visual and performing artists.

"The centers provide an enduring convening space where artists can hone their skills and overcome the isolation of working alone," says Ann Markusen, Humphrey Institute professor and chief author of the study.

At the centers, the artists take and teach classes, get feedback on their work, view leading-edge work in progress, listen to accomplished artists share career stories, compete for grants and opportunities to present their work, and find mentors, inspiration, and encouragement. Access to expensive equipment and workspace is especially precious, say the more than 200 artists interviewed.

"The centers bring people onto the streets day and night," notes Markusen, "which increases safety and helps to boost sales for nearby businesses."

"The centers maximize what economists call 'spillover' and help artists become better entrepreneurs as well as better artists," says Markusen.

In previous research, Markusen documented the economic impact artists have on the local economy as they directly export their work, sell their skills to area companies, and stimulate innovation among their suppliers. This new research, co-authored by Markusen and Humphrey Institute graduate student and research associate Amanda Johnson, finds that artists' centers help Minnesota "home grow" more artists than other regions while attracting additional artists from around the country. The Twin Cities' artistic density is high and comparable to metro areas like Boston, Seattle, and San Francisco.

The centers also play a key role in their host neighborhoods, as Twin Cities' centers are spread around town in a cultural mosaic rather than in a single arts district. On an even greater scale, artists' centers in smaller cities in greater Minnesota have revitalized declining downtown commercial districts, as seen in Northfield and New York Mills.

"The centers bring people onto the streets day and night," notes Markusen, "which increases safety and helps to boost sales for nearby businesses."

The authors urge policymakers and business leaders to recognize the strong contribution that artists' centers make to local and regional economies. Continued nurturing of dedicated artistic spaces will help the state hold onto its lead in cultural and non-arts industries, according to Markusen.

"In the report, we document how these centers have evolved over time and detail the fiscal challenges that center directors have faced," says Markusen. "Minnesota's foundations and state and local arts and economic development agencies have given significant and sustained resources to the emerging centers, a major reason for their pre-eminence here."

The complete study including profiles of 22 centers and selected artists can be found online at www.hhh.umn.edu/projects/prie. Information on ordering copies of the publication can be found on the Web site.