Take Arts Advocacy on the Road

Posted by Ms. Sheila M. Smith, Apr 14, 2016 2 comments

“I pledge to you that the Mayor, the City Council and indeed the City of Fergus Falls will invest more in the arts.”

-Mayor Hal Leland, Fergus Falls, MN

This is just one of the astonishing things said by public officials as we traveled around the state doing the Creative Minnesota Road Show. Drawing together city council and county board members, mayors, and regional and local economic development staff along with arts advocates of every description, the 91 presentations of our 29 economic impact studies of the arts were held in every corner of Minnesota in 2015. I put 7,000 miles on my car. I could now do these presentations in my sleep. But I have to tell you that it was really fun to run from place to place being the bearer of good news.

The Creative Minnesota Road Show brought new attention and energy to the arts’ impact in our communities. By doing a statewide economic study of nonprofit arts and culture organizations with the Arts & Economic Prosperity project, we found that the state’s arts impact is $1.2 billion from border to border. Our 28 regional and local reports also found a robust arts and culture economy in every community, regardless of size. This news was eagerly received by arts advocates across the state. These reports in turn gave us a focal point for a PR campaign about the arts in Minnesota.

We found that local advocates and elected officials are hungry for data that shows the impact of their local arts community.

 For months, I did four or five presentations of each week, mostly hosted by the state’s Regional Arts Councils, of their local data. And to my astonishment, these presentations drew audiences ranging in size from 8 to 500. In all, over 5,700 people saw the Creative Minnesota Road Show live and in person.

“We spend all of our city council meetings talking about the $3M economic impact from our Civic Center, and today I hear that our arts and culture organizations have an impact of $5M. I can tell you that we are going to spend a lot more time talking about the arts in our city council meetings.”

-Mayor Dale Adams, Grand Rapids, MN

Local officials found the information about audience spending to be particularly interesting. They were excited by the data that showed the size of the arts audience in their town and how much money attendees were spending that wouldn’t have come otherwise if it weren’t for the arts event. That prompted them to wonder how they could increase arts audiences.

“We know that arts events are drawing people into the county who also eat in restaurants, shop in stores and stay in local hotels. We want to understand the impact so the community will embrace the arts as a economic development strategy.” –Chisago County, MN

We also found that these events give the press a reason to talk about the arts. The Creative Minnesota Road Show generated 200 media hits on TV, newspapers, radio and online, sparking new conversations about the importance of the arts and culture to our economy and quality of life. It was more press than we had ever received about the impact of the arts by far, and it is still going on months later.

We found that we should give away power. Local contacts clearly knew best about what kind of events would work in their town. The state’s eleven Regional Arts Councils provided great leadership, along with the 1,269 arts and culture organizations that participated in the studies. These organizations were the key to the huge number of presentations and attendees at the Road Show presentations. They helped make connections to local government leaders, found a place to have the events, and helped spread the word.

You are stronger together. This project began in 2012 when a group of Minnesota’s arts leaders and foundations were bemoaning the lack of good data about our sector. Without good data, we couldn’t set good policies or create programs to help artists and arts organizations succeed.

In addition, our arts advocates were hungry for data about their local arts and culture community to use to advocate for arts funding from city and county governments. It’s hard to impress decision makers about the impact of the arts without good data.

So we banded together and became Creative Minnesota. It is a new centralized, concentrated, and long-term endeavor to collect and report data on the creative sector every two years for analysis, education, and advocacy.

Get the hell out of your office. We knew from the start that we wanted to get the word out in every corner of the state about the results of our studies and to start a big conversation about the impact of the arts. Our local advocates wanted and deserved events and press about their own arts communities in their own hometowns. And thus, the Creative Minnesota Road Show was born. Although we couldn’t be everywhere, we would get out as much as we could.

Why does this matter? It matters because local arts advocates are crying out for the tools they need – in this case for hard data – that they can use to speak the language of policy makers, including legislators, mayors, city council and county board members, and economic development authorities. The data needs to be local because that’s what elected officials are interested in.

There are lots of ways to talk about the arts that have nothing to do with economic impact, but to be taken seriously and to be included in their city’s long range plans and economic development efforts, we need to be persuasive with the folks that have the money.

And those people want local data. With jazz hands.

Sheila is a member of Americans for the Arts. Learn more about membership.

2 responses for Take Arts Advocacy on the Road


April 14, 2016 at 10:16 am

This is a great post. I appreciate you breaking down the motivation and ongoing results. 
I know your local leaders organized the meetings. How else were local leaders invovlved? Where there other spokespeople or was it mostly you? 

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Ms. Sheila M. Smith says
April 14, 2016 at 11:46 am

Hi Julia,
Thanks for the question.
Local leaders took on many roles, including making sure that the organizational data that went to AFTA for the economic impact studies was correct, to helping organize the events, to working with local government officials to invite them to speak at the events, to doing PR both before the event and after the release of the studies. I think they are part of the reason we got so much press coverage in local papers around the state; there was always a local angle!
I did almost all of the presentations but made the powerpoints available to anyone else who wanted to hit the road. I have several board members who took it upon themselves to do presentations to their own boards, or the local Rotary, or the local Chamber of Commerce. Sheila

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