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New study reveals significant impact of arts and culture on Becker County economy

Sheila Smith, executive director of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, spoke at Thursday's meeting of the Detroit Lakes Noon Rotary Club, as the guest of Rotarian Amy Stearns (right) who is the director of the Historic Holmes Theatre. (Photo submitted by Ed Gehrke)

Arts and culture activities have a significant economic impact on Becker County and its residents, according to a new collaborative study released just last week by Creative Minnesota.

A joint effort of the Minnesota Citizens for the Arts (MCA), Lake Region Arts Council (LRAC), City of Detroit Lakes and Historic Holmes Theatre, this local study is part of a larger, statewide collaboration that seeks to provide "hard data" on the contributions of nonprofit arts and culture organizations to the state's economy, says Sheila Smith, executive director of MCA.

Smith spoke at a meeting of the Detroit Lakes Noon Rotary on Thursday, as the guest of Holmes Theatre director Amy Stoller Stearns, and one day later, delivered the keynote presentation of the Detroit Lakes Regional Chamber of Commerce's annual economic summit.

"In addition to providing life changing experiences, educational opportunities and accessibility to audiences of all ages in their theaters and museums, arts and cultural organizations are important employers and economic engines," says Smith — and this study provides the facts to back up that statement.

In Becker County, the study found that the combined economic impact of nonprofit arts organizations, their audience, artists and creative workers is $4.7 million annually.

"This includes $1.5 million spent by nonprofit arts and culture organizations, $1.2 million spent by audiences, and over $2 million spent directly by artists and creative workers in their communities," said Smith.

The events and activities offered by these nonprofit organizations, artists and creative workers serve an annual audience of almost 72,200 people, Smith added.

"In Becker County, there are at least 513 people employed as artists and creative workers," she said, including 155 working full-time and 358 part-time in their chosen profession.

Among those regions surveyed in the study, "Becker County ranks ninth in population, but fourth in artist density (i.e., the number of creative workers and artists employed there), Smith added, noting that the artist density was one of the most significant pieces of data gleaned from the local study, along with the overall economic impact.

Why are these results so important?

"A strong local arts presence helps to attract and retain businesses and their employees, and is also good for those looking to make the Detroit Lakes area their seasonal, second or retirement home," said Carrie Johnston, president of the Detroit Lakes Regional Chamber of Commerce.

"We were excited to partner with the Historic Holmes Theatre through the Creative Minnesota study to learn about the impact of the arts in Detroit Lakes," said City Administrator Kelcey Klemm. "One of the goals of the city is to facilitate how the arts can have a larger impact on our community and region. We believe that the arts can help our city grow and be more attractive for businesses, residents and tourists."

Besides the Holmes Theatre, City of Detroit Lakes and Chamber of Commerce, local organizations participating in the Creative Minnesota study included the Becker County Museum, Cormorant Art Club, DEBWE Youth Center, Detroit Lakes Public Library, Becker County Friends of the Library, Detroit Mountain REcreation Area, Detroit Lakes Community Education, Ecumen Detroit Lakes, Honor the Earth, Niijii Radio, Detroit Lakes Jaycees, and the Lake Park Area Historical Society.

Creative Minnesota is a long-term collaborative initiative of statewide arts and culture supporting organizations, with an objective to "fill in the gaps" of available information about the state's arts and culture fields, and improve understanding of their importance to Minnesota's economy and quality of life. For more information, please visit

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 17 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454