Dissecting the city’s arts economy

An art installation contest winner — MIMMI, The Minneapolis Interactive Macro Mood Installation, by INVIVIA Credit: Submitted image

A new measure of Minneapolis’ creative economy yielded an arts scene bigger than most imagined.

Sales revenue in the creative sector amounts to $430 million, roughly 70 percent of the revenue in the Minneapolis sports industry.

“I was actually floored by that,” said Gülgün Kayim, the city’s arts and culture director. “We don’t have the Target Center seats they have [a capacity of 20,000]. The Guthrie, that’s 2,000 seats.”

She said the arts build a sense of community the same way sports do. But they don’t require the same level of investment, she said. Arts studios often locate inside rehabbed old buildings, such as the riverfront’s Pillsbury “A” Mill, which will provide space for 255 artist lofts.

The city report says creative industries add monetary value to functional products, such as houses and even hamburgers.

“A designer burger is more expensive than a fast food chain burger; a handmade artisan crafted chair more expensive than a factory product,” states the report. “The value of creativity, and the skill and labor that goes into that creative activity, is the driving force behind these cost differences, and make the creative industries key players in the creative economy.”

Visual art is a big seller

Minneapolis has long touted its high ticket sales, with per capita theater company revenue that is 14 times the national average. But few realized how much volume the art galleries were doing.

Art sales from galleries, dealers and independent artists generated more than the performing arts in 2011, amounting to $211 million.

“To see that visual arts outpaces performing arts — where is that happening?” Kayim said. “I was surprised by that. … I’m guessing it’s happening through the artist studios.”

Hundreds of artists now populate Northeast Minneapolis, and Art-A-Whirl is now the largest art studio crawl in the country.

“It’s a totally hidden economy,” said Josh Blanc, a ceramic tile artist with Clay Squared. “Maybe this will wake people up. … We have 600 artists, and each one of them goes shopping. We have 100 painters who need stretchers.”

Downtown dominates the arts employers

The highest concentration of artists work Downtown — more than 5,500 work in two Downtown zip codes, accounting for 29 percent of all the creative employees in Minneapolis.

The Warehouse District’s “mini-Madison Avenue” along First Avenue has set the tone for attracting creative companies, said Mike Wendorf, a commercial real estate broker who focuses on the area.

“The phenomena started in 2007,” he said. “One big shop opened up, and lots of others followed.”

Downtown shops include Colle+McVoy, Carmichael Lynch, Olson, and HGA Architects.

“I’m doing a lot of volume with little creative, professional service destinations, one after another,” Wendorf said. “It makes it easy to attract the next one.”

Architects, dancer numbers are down

Although there was plenty of good news in the arts report, there were alarm bells as well. Some of the city’s standout professions are declining. The number of architects fell by 17 percent in the last decade, dipping along with the housing market.

The city’s declining dance community was a bigger mystery. The Cowles Center for Dance opened just two years ago, funded with more than $20 million in public money, to provide Minnesota with a flagship center for dance. Despite the investment, the number of dancers dropped 25 percent in the last decade.

“This was a surprise to me,” Kayim said. “What is the difference between the perception and the reality?”

Linda Andrews, artistic director of Zenon Dance Company, said it has always been difficult for dancers to find work.

“It’s an ongoing struggle to survive for most people,” she said. “It’s very competitive. There are very few pools of money for dance.”

She said the Cowles Center provides another venue for dance, but because it is a unionized facility (similar to the Guthrie), it is costly to rent.

“It’s really expensive to perform there,” she said. “Dance is extremely underfunded as an art form.”

More agents in the city

Agents are the fastest-growing arts employees in Minneapolis. Although agents aren’t numerous — they number around 100 — they grew by 43 percent in the last 10 years.

Joseph Belk, creative director of Permanent Art & Design Group, said he thinks a rise in freelancers is driving the growth in agents, who serve as head-hunters and scout for projects.

“Since the height of the recession, bigger agencies are getting whittled down, and people are learning how to work for themselves,” Belk said. “Freelance designers are getting more six-eight month contracts. … When they’re completed, they return to the freelance world.”

More people are breaking off from large firms to launch small startups, Belk said. And he sees more people working from home — “I can think of 50 people in Northeast in an eight-block radius,” he said.

Artists are also working after-hours, Belk said. They might have a day job at Target, and run a clothing line when they get home.

“Everybody has to work a lot more these days,” he said.

What’s next

Moving forward, city staff plan to continue measuring the city’s “creative index” on an annual basis. They will gather professionals from the bottom five creative occupations — shrinking jobs include floral designers, dancers, architects, landscape architects, and sound engineering technicians — to see how they might improve.

To benefit architects, the city has already hosted a competition to build an installation outside the Convention Center. The winner, INVIVIA + urbainDRC, will use technology to visualize the city’s “collective mood.” A cloud-like inflatable balloon hovering 35 feet above the ground will collect and reflect the aggregate mood in Minneapolis, represented by visuals like light displays.

“It’s important to draw attention to the great community we have here,” Kayim said.

One other potential action would change the city’s zoning code so artists could use light industrial equipment, such as a kiln, inside commercial districts.

“It would be great to open it up more,” said BethRobinson, owner of Fired Up Studios.

Kayim noted that jewelry-makers and glass artists had expressed interest in taking over the empty Hollywood Theater in Northeast, but current zoning code wouldn’t allow their equipment.

“Given that this activity is good for neighborhoods, we want jewelry-makers to take over spaces, and enable potters to do their work,” Kayim said. “We’re trying to be more imaginative.”


By the Numbers

The top 5 creative occupations

1: Photographers (2,851)

2: Musicians & Singers (2,346)

3: Writers & Authors (2,151)

4: Graphic Designers (1,756)

5: Art Directors (1,035)


Average amount the creative sector pumps into the economy in a single year

Highly creative zip codes

55401has 3,309 total creativeemployees, 17 percent of all creative employees

55402 has 2,277 total creative employees, 12 percent of citywide creative employees

Source: The Minneapolis Creative Index 2013

The Methodology

The “Creative Vitality Index” (CVI) was developed in 2002 by a coalition including the Washington State Arts Commission, the Seattle Office of Arts and Culture, Hebert Research, and the Western States Arts Federation. It measures employment in the arts and it measures community participation, based on per capita revenues of arts-related goods and services.

Occupation data comes from Economist Modeling Specialist Inc., which provides data on full-time, part-time and contract workers. The CVI includes occupations in 36 categories that are highly correlated with skill sets that require creativity, originality and fine arts knowledge.

Source: The Minneapolis Creative Index 2013