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Performing arts center question connects history, new economic study

Nearly 30 years ago to the day in April, Brainerd residents were doing something quite similar to their 2018 counterparts—considering whether to add an auditorium to the high school.

The vote that spring in 1988 would be a squeaker with drama. Beyond a nail-biter for a close vote, there were defective ballots from the Lowell Elementary School polling place that could have swung the outcome in a different direction. It was the 1988 version of a hanging chad, for those who remember a certain presidential election and subsequent ballot recount searching for voter intent.

Through the work of auditorium and design committees with Brainerd architects Lee Stegner and Brian Phelps, the blueprints for the proposed facility in 1988 called for a 1,500-seat, two-tiered auditorium with 50-foot wide stage and large, side and rear off-stage areas.

John Erickson, chairman of the Auditorium Design Committee, outlined design details for the school district's financial committee, which was part of the news of the day on the Dispatch's front page on April 7, 1988.

The school district finance committee accepted the designs for the auditorium. A May 17 referendum was set. If passed the $4.8 million auditorium would have been ready for use in December of 1990. That wasn't to be. It failed by 15 votes, from the unofficial tally in the May 18 Dispatch. After the votes from 18 precincts were cast, the count showed a large election turnout with 1,353 votes in favor of the auditorium and 1,368 voters against. Those involved in the referendum effort said they remember the number of votes separating the question came down to 11.

In an unusual outcome, there were 48 ballots reported as defective at the Lowell Elementary polling site for the school board candidates of the day and 16 defective ballots on the school referendum question. In the school elections the previous year, there were three defective ballots.

Iola Aykens, a Lowell election judge, said at the time most of the defective ballots bore check marks instead of an "X." Aykens said she told several people to make an X but they didn't.

"We usually have two or three defective, but never this many," she said.

At the time, Bob Gross, then school superintendent, said he was encouraged visits to senior citizens groups before the vote but thought those voting against it probably were those who felt they wouldn't use it.

Areas with the largest number of voters against the referendum were Nisswa where the count was 149 against to 85 in favor. Other areas with double the amount of voters or more against the auditorium were Nokay Lake and Long Lake.

"I am preoccupied with knowing the kind of facility we could have had for the kids in our area," Gross said in 1988. "I am particularly troubled that somewhere in our district are at least 15 eligible voters who favored the project but didn't vote on it."

The proposal was to build the auditorium in the north parking lot on the hill overlooking the athletic fields and the Mississippi River in the distance.

Tuesday, voters will be asked to consider three ballot questions involving improvements to all elementary and secondary school buildings and the addition of a performing arts center, for an estimated total cost of $205 million. The referendum is broken down into three questions. Question 2 includes $79 million for work on the Brainerd High School-North Campus, including a 950-seat performance arts center for high school musical and theater performances and other community events. Question 3 includes $8 million for an improved performing arts center at Brainerd High School going from the 950 seats in Question 2 to 1,200 seats. Ballot Question 2 would need to be approved for Question 3 to pass. Question 3 adds 250 additional seats, adds an orchestra pit and larger stage, enhanced acoustics and upgraded sound and lighting systems. Using the tax calculator at www.blueprint181.org and putting in a residential home value of $100,000 brings up a monthly cost of $4 for all three questions on the ballot.

The tax impact of the three ballot questions for a current median home value of $156,200 in Crow Wing County is an increase of $36 per year for Question 1, $39 per year for Question 2 and $12 per year for Question 3—for a total of $87 a year, or about $7.25 per month. This would be the tax increase from taxes payable in 2018 to taxes payable in 2019. Currently, a median home valued at $156,200 is paying about $45.83 per month, or $550 annually for total school taxes. According to the district, if the building plan is approved, the debt would be paid off at the end of 2043, with current debt restructured to be paid off by 2027.

Economic impact of nonprofit arts and culture

What is the broader economic impact of arts and culture to an area? Does it bring in revenue to the overall community?

In 2017, Creative Minnesota and Minnesota Citizens for the Arts released a study indicating Minnesotans strongly believe the arts and culture are important to their quality of life, and that Minnesotans attend and participate in the arts at a rate exceeding the national average.

"As the most comprehensive report ever done of the state's creative sector Creative Minnesota fills in the gaps of available information about Minnesota's cultural field and seeks to improve our understanding of its importance to our quality of life and economy," according to a news release looking at the study and its results.

"Nonprofit arts and culture organizations contribute to the vibrancy of Minnesota's economy and quality of life and make our state a magnet for jobs and businesses. Now we can quantify that," said Sheila Smith, executive director of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, in a news release. "In addition to providing life-changing experiences, educational opportunities and accessibility to audiences of all ages in their stages and museums, arts and culture organizations are important employers and economic engines."

The study found the combined economic impact of nonprofit arts organizations, their audiences and artists and creative workers is over $2 billion annually. This includes $819 million spent by nonprofit arts organizations, $564 million spent by audiences, and the direct spending of artists in their communities, on things such as art supplies and studio rental, of $644 million.

Creative Minnesota 2017 found more than 104,000 artists and creative workers in Minnesota who make their living wholly, or in part, by working for for-profits, nonprofits, or self-employed, in 41 creative occupations. In the Brainerd lakes area, the number of artists and creative workers was listed at 1,967 with 1,223 of those employed full time.

Cass County was listed as one of the counties with a high density cluster of creative workers per 1,000 employed residents.

For Region Five: Five Wings Arts Council, serving Cass, Crow Wing, Morrison, Todd and Wadena counties, the study found although the region was ninth in population, it was third highest in creative worker density in the workforce and fifth in average creative worker hourly wage at $18.46 per hour. Key cities in the region include Brainerd, Little Falls, Wadena, Long Prairie and Walker.

By the numbers in Region Five

The annual economic impact of artists and nonprofit arts and culture organizations in the region is more than $10.5 million, the study found.

• $7.3 million in total economic impact by artists and creative workers in the regions with $6 million of that from spending by full-time creative artists and creative workers and the remainder by those working part time.

• $3.2 million spent by nonprofit arts and culture organizations with $855,622 of that spent by those attending arts and culture events.

• 90 percent of artists in the region volunteer compared to 25 percent of all Americans and 35 percent of all Minnesotans.

• Top 3 creative jobs: photographer, singer, graphic designer.

• $1.2 million in total government revenue generated in the region by organizations and artists with $301,000 in taxes and fees and $894,000 by spending of artists and creative workers.

• 46 organizations with 19 of those in performing arts.

• $9.62—the amount, above the cost of their ticket, attendees are spending in the region with 88,942 arts and culture attendees listed for the 2017 study.

In 2015, Region Five listed an economic impact from nonprofit and culture organizations of $3.6 million. In the 2015 report, the total direct expenditures by organizations was $2.7 million plus audience spending of $885,007 for a total economic impact of $3.6 million. The study found the state government revenues amounted to $290,000 and $62,000 for local government.

Resident household income generated by arts and the culture sector was $2.3 million with an aggregate value of volunteer time at $22.55 per hour for a total of $641,886. Total audience was listed at 91,548 people annually with more than 43.2 percent of attendees with an annual household income of less than $60,000.

Non-local attendees to arts and cultural events in the region spent 44 percent more than local attendees, the study found. The non-local attendees, 17,128 people, spent an average of $12.87 per person. Sixty percent of non-resident survey respondents reported their primary reason for the trip was to attend the specific event. Local audiences, or 74,420 people, were spending an average of $8.93 above the cost of their ticket.

In 2015, the Creative Minnesota snapshot of the health and economic impact of arts and culture reported the Brainerd lakes area was "significantly gaining ground" in terms of local economic impact. "While the region was 11th ranked in economic impact from the arts and culture in 2006 among the 11 regions studied, it now ranks ninth."

Study findings

• The total economic impact of artists and creative worker spending in the state is $644 million annually.

• 1,601 nonprofit arts and culture organizations in Minnesota served 22 million attendees at arts and cultural events in 2014 with the majority—by discipline—in performing arts.

• These organizations serve 3.8 million K-12 students, hosting 29,318 school group visits each year. There are approximately 900,000 K-12 students in Minnesota, so on average every student is participating four times a year in arts and culture activities provided by these nonprofits.

• The economic impact of just the participating organizations and their audiences totaled $1.4 billion, an increase of $185 million since the previous study in 2015. This is primarily due to an additional 332 participating organizations, but also includes a 1.5 percent increase in impact by the organizations participating in both studies.

• Just looking at the economic impact of nonprofit arts and culture organizations, Minnesota has double the arts economy of Wisconsin even though Minnesota has nearly the same population, 10-and-a-half times the arts economy of Kansas and 12-and-a-half times the arts economy of South Dakota.

• The economic impact of nonprofit arts and culture organizations in the Brainerd lakes area was listed at $3.1 million and part of a $1.4 billion impact statewide.

For the April 10 referendum vote, voters can find the polling place for their precinct by visiting www.blueprint181.org clicking the "Election Information" link, then scrolling down to the "Polling Place Finder" link and accessing it. There, by entering their ZIP code or county, then their street address, voters can determine the correct polling place.

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