The arts give new life to small town Minnesota

How would life for an artist in Granite Falls compare to that of life in say, Chicago or New York?

For Brad Hall, Granite Falls is the far better choice.


Brad Hall works on a set of watercolor paintings at his home studio in Granite Falls, Minn.

MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Hall is just one of several people interviewed by MPR’s Jennifer Vogel as she explored the rising arts economy in the southwest prairie:

Hall is part of an emerging arts economy in western Minnesota, an area stretching from Ortonville downriver through Milan, Montevideo and Granite Falls. People here are hoping that focusing on creativity, art and handwork will lead to jobs and reverse the longstanding trend toward a declining and graying population. It’s a strategy some communities have turned to as part of a drive to become more entrepreneurial.

It’s notable that this part of Minnesota is doing better than most when it comes to grassroots job growth. While some measurements indicate entrepreneurial activity declined statewide beginning in 2007 or 2008, the Granite Falls and Montevideo area saw a growth in proprietor income and also managed to hold self-employment numbers steady.

Rural areas rely heavily on the self-employed, and arts-related endeavors are becoming a larger and increasingly legitimized part of the picture. The movement toward arts-based economic growth, sometimes called “creative placemaking,” seeks to revitalize and re-imagine cities or neighborhoods searching for a new way forward.

Western Minnesota certainly has its share of artists and craftspeople, including painters, potters, musicians and willow furniture makers. A fall arts crawl called the Meander featured 45 artists last year, flung across area towns and farms


You can find out more about how the arts are transforming Minnesota towns by reading Vogel’s story here.