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Cook County organizes to promote its arts credentials

Jul 26, 2016 08:35AM, Published by Editor, Categories: Arts+Culture, News

When many people in this region think of Cook County, they think of hiking, biking and other outdoor recreational activities. But some locals contend that the area may soon be well-known for another amenity – the arts.

A recent study – Arts and Economic Prosperity IV, commissioned as part of the larger effort known as Creative Minnesota – found that Cook County ranked third in the state for per capita spending on the arts – behind only Minneapolis and St. Paul. It’s an area of the local economy that’s strong and growing, said Visit Cook County Executive Director Linda Kratt.

Statewide, the study found that arts have a significant economic impact. Arts spending was found to be in excess of $696 million during fiscal year 2013. The arts also support nearly 24,000 full-time equivalent jobs, more than $560 million in residential household income and contribute significantly to local and state government revenues, the study found. In total, arts and non-profits in the state are a $1.2 billion industry when direct arts spending is coupled with spin-off impacts.

The arts in Cook County encompass both the visual and performing, with events like Art Along the Lake and sponsored live music performances at local resorts offering opportunity for both visitors and residents to partake in the local arts scene. 

The arts here also offer an opportunity for business growth, supporting about 127 full-time equivalent local arts-related jobs and contributing $4.6 million to the county’s economy. 

Kratt also points to the high number of arts-related organizations as evidence of its importance to the vitality of Cook County. Some of those local organizations include North Shore Music Association, the Grand Marais Playhouse, Johnson Heritage Post Art Gallery, Hovland Arts Festival and Sugarloaf Cove Nature Center.

But, perhaps most importantly, is the potential the arts have for tourism, which accounts for 80 percent of Cook County’s economy. Tourism growth is reflected readily in tourism tax dollars generated. Kratt noted that lodging tax collections were up about 10 percent countywide at the end of the 2015-2016 fiscal year.

While it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact effect that the arts is having on all aspects of the local economy, some look to recent business investment as evidence of new-found optimism. A recent multi-million-dollar new gondola investment at Lutsen Mountain, the 2015 opening of Voyageur Brewing and the reopening of Beaver House are a few developments that Kratt points to as examples.

Strategic planning initiatives are focusing on growth as well. A recently formed organization, the Cook County Arts Economy Planning Team, aims to promote the impact that arts and cultural endeavors have on the local economy. While the group is in its early stages, Kratt noted that already about 100 local stakeholders have come together to discuss the potential. 

The economic planning effort dates back to 2012, added Cook County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jim Boyd. In partnership with the Duluth-based Northspan Group, stakeholders gathered input from both business owners and residents regarding the direction strategic planning should take in the future.

The results overwhelmingly showed that locals wanted to see more economic development in the area, but that development had to be a good fit with the natural environment – attractive to both visitors and permanent residents. “People wanted development but they didn’t want it by industrializing,” Boyd said. 

Boyd envisions arts having an impact beyond simply generating more tourism dollars. The avenues currently being explored in planning efforts include online marketing and fulfillment – both necessary for artists to sell their wares to a wider audience but often functions of doing business that are unappealing to the artists themselves.

“These may be areas (marketing and fulfillment) that we can provide some help with,” said Boyd.

Marketing to a larger audience, however, is only part of the plan. Generating even more growth through tourism dollars also is on the radar screen for Kratt.

“Our total (tourism) audience is nearly 78,000,” Kratt said. “We’re more than 80 percent a tourism economy,” she said. “When you throw arts into that mix, you’ve got a year-round destination.”

“We have world class artists here,” added Boyd. “We just need to get the word out.”

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  • BETH BILY / BusinessNorth

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