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Studies,experts agree: Red Wing is the place for arts and artists to be

Lena Elizabeth performs during the first Big Turn Festival in Red Wing. Photo courtesy of Big Turn Festival1 / 3
Some supplies are free for use at ArtReach all the time, and others such as canvas and paint can be purchased on site. ArtReach is located in the heart of downtown Red Wing, 436 W. Third St. RiverTown Multimedia file photo2 / 3
Pollinator Park features this statue of a butterfly. The statue is an example of public art. This piece is the result of a collaboration between Red Wing Arts, the city of Red Wing, residents, businesses and foundations. Rachel Fergus / RiverTown Multimedia3 / 3

It's hard to throw a paintbrush in Red Wing without hitting a piece of art, an artistic organization, an art-related event or an art-focused nonprofit.

Recently, the city was abuzz with visitors and community members participating the the Holiday Stroll. They were able to meet Santa in the Sheldon Theatre, create ornaments in ArtReach, and buy local art in shops. As the snow builds on the side of the road, it reminds residents that the cold, February music extravaganza — Big Turn Music Fest — is only a couple of months away.

Red Wing seems to have a healthy and thriving arts scene. But is it any different from other art communities across the state and nation?

The answer: Yes.

The National Endowment for the Arts conducted a study that found Minnesota has the highest concentration of artists in the region and that this state exceeds the national average of the percentage of the workforce made up by artists one and one-half times.

Sheila Smith, the executive director for Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, stated "clearly Red Wing's arts and culture organizations are bringing people to town who wouldn't otherwise be there to spend their money on local businesses. There is something special going on in Red Wing."

Emily Guida Foos, the director of Red Wing Arts, agrees.

"Art and culture is the difference from Red Wing, Lake City and Northfield," she said. Foos went onto explain that Red Wing visitors are often here for the arts and the culture of the city. The attraction of arts, both to those who live in the city and who come from other communities, has an economic impact on Red Wing.

A 2017 Creative Minnesota Study found that the arts' yearly economic impact on Red Wing is $2,228,641. This figure includes the direct spending by art organizations ($1,724,398) and the "total arts and culture related spending by audiences" ($504,243). Along with spending by organizations such as the Sheldon Theatre and the Anderson Center and the "arts and culture" spending, visitors spend money on food, hotels and gas.

Many people also shop in Red Wing while they are here. The study found that 20.1 percent of art event attendees are not local. On average, they spend $22.21 per person in the community per visit. This does not include the cost of the ticket for the event that they are attending.

The Creative Minnesota study goes on to state that "84 percent of non-resident survey respondents reported that the primary reason for their trip was 'specifically to attend this arts/cultural event' bringing dollars to the region that would not have otherwise been spent here."

Locals who attend art and cultural events also spend money throughout the community. On average, a local participant spends $9.77 above the ticket cost.

Red Wing's arts organizations and nonprofits support 66 full-time jobs, according to the Creative Minnesota study.

"We are contributing back into this economy too—buying tickets and buying clothes and buying gas and buying a house," Foos said.

Though Red Wing benefits and culturally and studies show that Red Wing has a strong arts community, there are ways that it can be improved. Minnesota Citizens for the Arts points to the income gap between female and male artists across the state. Female full-time artists make an average of $32,941 a year while their male counterparts make an average $45,166 a year. There is also a gap between the income of artists of color— $30,304 annually — and white artists— $38,419 annually.

When asked how Red Wing could improve its art community, Foos stated that she wants to see Red Wing's art organizations and communities be marketed better to the local community and visitors.

"Without being negative, I think we as a community sit and watch these cars drive over the bridge and down Wisconsin to these tiny little towns that are just supported by an artistic community. ... We have it here, too, but it's not as defined yet."

To make art and art-related events feasible for more community members, Foos explained that there needs to be better public transportation, child care availability and events that are affordable. She also said that it can sometimes be a challenge to show that art is important to the community and that it is a need in the community.

"Art can be seen as a non-necessity, and I think we have to fight that battle a little bit, in showing the value of art. It doesn't mean you have to go buy a $500 painting for your house. ... Art can be seen in other ways, too."

Foos went on to state that it can sometimes be difficult to show the value of art because that value is not always obvious: it does not provide food or better roads.

Foos strongly believes that art in the community is valuable: "Art is a connection, it's something that is enjoyable and an outlet. I think there is healing in art."

Bonnie Schock, the executive director of the Sheldon Theatre, also advocates for the importance of the arts and art events. Schock is quoted in the 2016 Americans for the Arts study:

"Red Wing has long understood both the economic and human impact of the arts, and has actively nurtured an environment that supports a diversity of creative activity integrated into all aspects of city life. As home to historic arts-based businesses, a diversity of nonprofit arts institutions, as well as arts festivals, events, and happenings all throughout the year; the arts are an essential factor in generating tourism, attracting and retaining business, and knitting the community of Red Wing together."