Questions typically arise concerning the economic impact of the annual Upper Minnesota River Meander Art Crawl has within the five-county area, and once again it appears to be plenty thanks to a survey conducted during the three-day event. It’s not just an economic impact, either, for attendees filling out their “passports” suggest their enjoyment goes beyond the billfold and credit card. “The welcoming nature of the artists in their studios was noted throughout the surveys again this year,” said Kristi Fernholz, who oversees the Meander for the Upper Minnesota River Regional Development Commission. “People love meeting with the artists, who they found very open and friendly. This is good for our region overall and has an impact that lasts long past the Meander itself.”
The Meander is held on the first weekend of October with 45 artists from Granite Falls to Ortonville, and from Danvers to Dawson. Their juried works are displayed at either home studios or at host sites such as the Red Barn north of Ortonville or the Milan Arts School. Between 130 and 1,500 art enthusiasts were reported to have visited each of the sites, with an average in the 500 range. She noted that the quality of the art is a big draw. “The art is what brings the visitors into the region,” she said. In all, 71 percent of the customers surveyed said the art was excellent, and that 83 percent said their overall experience was likewise excellent. The overall average for art sales per artist was $2,668, up slightly over the $2,564 per artist in 2015.
Beyond the art sales reported (nearly $115,000, or $110 per customer on average), visitors touring during the Meander also spent an average of $36 on food and gas compared to $29 in 2015; $12 on shopping for items other than art compared to $11 in 2015; and $17 on lodging compared to $5 in 2015. While just over a third of those customers came from within the five county area, 30 percent came from greater Minnesota (outside 5-county area), 21 percent came from the metro area and 15 percent came from out of state. Interestingly, half those who attended this y ear did not attend in 2015, and 80 percent of those said they would tour again next year. Nearly a third of all the visitors said this was their first Meander experience.
Fernholz said that it takes some coaxing to spread the word. “Money raised to organize the Meander through both sponsors and artists was spent on products or services (printing, paper, advertising, graphic design, staffing) within the five county area,” she said, adding that the Meander spent over $9,500 on advertising in 2016. This was 26 percent of the total budget. Beyond the numbers, though, what brightened the day for Fernholz was the comments concerning the Meander experience, where among the hundreds of comments were a vast variety of highlights of visiting and/or meeting the artists on the trail. “That seems to be a recurring theme and why we’re seeing growth in the Meander,” she said … Fernholz is, herself, one of the Meander artists with her fine art prairie photography. Many of the artists were called out in the survey, she noted, yet it was the overall experience of being in the studios and meeting the artists themselves that resonated throughout the survey results.
“Many of the comments concerned the quality of the arts, too, from the pottery to the photography, from the painters to the numerous other art forms,” she said. “It’s good we have this high quality of a wide variance of mediums, along with an energized and friendly grouping of artists,” she said. “This is what keeps the Meander strong and growing, and it appears the visitors coming out for the weekend and the artists themselves are all looking forward to year number 14 next year!”