Arts shape our lives, our economy

PHOTO: Kain Kalju, Flickr CC

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

When you hear the word “arts,” or especially its fancier cousin, “THE arts” we tend to think of snobs sniffing wine in front of a large drab painting. When I think about it, however, the word conjures a string of memories.

Acting in my first play during 9th Grade at the Cherry School. The time I saw “Tommy” on the Hibbing Community College Theater stage. Reading “All the King’s Men” in my dank, wood paneled basement bedroom one teenage summer. Looking up to the mural on the Hibbing City Council chamber walls as a Boy Scout. The moment my son handed me a drawing that was better than anything I could ever do.

Small moments with art. Some private. Some public. All local. I can’t think about my life here on the Iron Range without art.

We all experience art in our own way, from the music on our MP3 players to the pictures we hang on our living room walls. We walk out our front doors to experience the art of our people and it becomes part of us, whether we want it to or not.

But the arts, in their many forms, aren’t just a cultural touchstone, they’re an economic one, too.

Last month, a regional study explored the impact of the arts on the Iron Range economy. The report was sponsored by Creative Minnesota, Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation, and the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council.

One of the key findings was that though the Iron Range region has a smaller population, it’s first in the state for audience spending impact. That means that the region gets a lot of bang for the buck in terms of investment in the arts.

“Nonprofit arts and culture organizations contribute to the vibrancy of Minnesota’s economy and quality of life and make our state a magnet for jobs and businesses. Now we can quantify that for the Range.” said Sheila Smith, Executive Director of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, in a press release. “In addition to providing life changing experiences, educational opportunities and accessibility to audiences of all ages in their stages and museums, arts and culture organizations are important employers and economic engines.”

Annually, 57 arts and cultural organizations on the Iron Range create $12 million economic impact, serving 135,000 attendees. These organizations also generate $1.2 million in tax revenue.

“While studies have shown that artists and other creatives have a significant impact within Minnesota as a whole, this study hones in on the ways the Iron Range community is effected every day and how local arts advocates, arts organizations and governments can find new ways to improve our lives with arts and culture,” said Mary McReynolds, Chair of the Recharge the Range Creative Communities Group. “Iron Range artists are indeed a valuable natural resource.”

A broader study done in 2017 by Creative Minnesota found that there are 3,318 artists and creative workers in Itasca, Lake, and St. Louis Counties, including Duluth. And while that’s not a large percentage of the overall workforce, it does show that the arts are much more than hobbies.

Perhaps harder for a study to quantify are the ways in which a strong arts community encourages relocation and investment in the community. Entrepreneurs and workers are humans, after all. Humans crave recreation and the arts to replenish our souls.

The Iron Range faces its share of challenges as our demographics and economy change with new times. One thing we should take pride in, however, are the ways in which we can share and process these changes using the arts.

Good for business. Good for us. Support your local artist today. It’s the investment that always pays off, often in dollars but always in experience.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Feb. 11, 2018 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.


  1. Grand Rapids is very fortunate to have the Reif Center and the MacRostie Art Center, and a thriving community of artists in every form.

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