MANKATO — Kevin Kroeber knows all too well the truth behind the recent findings about southwest Minnesota’s artists.
The Mankato artist works four part-time jobs to help support his family, which leaves him little to no time to be a painter. He’s had shows over the years, but he doesn’t even kid himself in thinking that if he produced a great deal of work he’d be able to make a living from it in the Mankato area.
“There’s not a big enough clientele in Mankato,” he said. “I just think it’s the rural mentality. Most of the artists that can support themselves off their art live in the metropolitan area.”
According to a recent statewide study, Kroeber’s right. About 62 percent of the state’s artists live in the Twin Cities, and 26 percent of them work full time as artists.
Compare that to southwest Minnesota, which had the lowest percentage of individual artists working full time on their art at only 6 percent. And at about 10 percent of their income, the artists in the area had the lowest percentage of their income coming from their art, said Sheila Smith, executive director of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts.
The bad news of “The Economic Impact of Minnesota’s Individual Artists” study didn’t end there.
Area artists had the lowest average income from their art, estimated at about $3,062 per year. They also are the least likely of all the artists in the state to have health insurance. And more than 30 percent don’t have retirement plans, Smith said.
“Why?” is the big question for those who conducted the survey — Citizens for the Arts, Springboard for the Arts and the Minnesota Crafts Council. Not just for the southwest numbers, but for the state overall.
Now that data exist from two years of studies — including last year’s look at the economic impact of nonprofit arts and culture organizations and this year’s study of individual artists — the councils hope to use the information to look at the “why” and the “how to move forward.”
“That’s what I’ll be real excited about,” Kroeber said. “Because I hope I can use that to help me with my business.”
In the meantime, local artists and arts organizations can only guess as to why the arts must remain “a hobby” for most in southwest Minnesota rather than a career. Smith can’t venture a guess without further investigation, she said, such as whether the income level of southwest Minnesotans prevents art purchases.
For now, local art constituents are focusing on lobbying for state funding for the arts to help support artists. Members of the Prairie Lakes Regional Arts Council and area residents joined 400 other state arts advocates recently at the Capitol to ask legislators to restore arts funding to 2003 levels at $14 million per year for the Minnesota State Arts Board and 11 regional arts councils. They also asked that the arts be included in any sales tax dedication bills, said Brenda Flintrop, executive director of Prairie Lakes.
Flintrop and others pointed out to legislators that artists and arts organizations have a vast economic impact on the state, as the past two years of studies have indicated.
According to the study, southwest Minnesota artists have a $7.2 million economic impact, meaning they spend that much at businesses in Minnesota, thereby affecting the state’s economy.
The southwest artists support about 250 full-time jobs and provide more than $800,000 in state and local government revenue.
Overall, artists in Minnesota have an economic impact of $205.2 million, Smith said.
“The arts mean business,” she said.