The Big Story Blog

A tougher economy for rural Minnesota arts?

Posted at 2:15 PM on December 7, 2011 by Paul Tosto
Filed under: Arts

Earlier today we featured insights from two Minneapolis-based arts groups that see economic conditions improving for the state's arts community.

Robyn Gray, though, reminded us there can be a big difference between what's happening in The Cities and rural Minnesota.

Gray directs the St. Francis Music Center, a community school for the arts in Little Falls.

From her vantage point on the economy, things are getting worse.

We have seen some drop in the people who donate to the Music Center but people still try to give, just smaller amounts. We depend a lot on the $10 - $20 donations. We make all of our concerts free because it is important to us to make the arts available to all.

It is frustrating to be in rural MN and see all the money go to the big organizations in the metro area. I love the Guthrie and Ordway just as much as everyone else, but the cost of most of their concerts/programs eliminate most of MN from attending.

I know they do special programs for students, etc. but they still are very exclusive. I commend the MN State Arts Board for making sure that rural arts are supported, their support has kept us open.

Overall, Minnesota's done really well sustaining public financing for art in the recession. No doubt that funds from the Minnesota Legacy Amendment passed in 2008 helped drive that expansion.

Gray said Legacy money was a lifesaver for her school, and it received some federal stimulus money as well. Still, rural Minnesota, she said, is

often ignored by the big grantors because we do not have the population density or diversity that the metro areas have. We have worked very hard to keep a financial aid program going for our students and keeping costs low for our students. Both the boatworks closed in Little Falls, which made a poor county in Minnesota even poorer, (but) that doesn't stop people from wanting to participate in the arts.

St. Francis, she added, hasn't had to make any job cuts in the Great Recession.

We run bare bones as it is. Our school sees approximately 500 students/participants a week, yet we are run with 1.5 administrative staff who do everything from grant writing, scheduling, billing, and even cleaning at times. Our teachers are very dedicated and very poorly paid independent contractors.

Got another perspective to share on how arts groups are doing in this economy? Tell us.


About Paul Tosto

Paul Tosto

Paul Tosto writes the Big Story Blog for MPR News. He joined the newsroom in 2008 after more than 20 years reporting on education, politics and the economy for news wires and newspapers across the country.