Statewide Stories: Northwest Minnesota Arts Council

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Forum of Regional Arts Councils of Minnesota
Statewide Stories: Issue 1

Northwest Minnesota Arts Council (NWMAC) – Region 1

by Kathy Mouacheupao, Executive Director of the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council

Back in March, I wrote a short blog about the Forum of Regional Arts Councils of Minnesota (FRACM) to start raising awareness of the important work we’re doing as a statewide system. When I started my job, I completely underestimated the importance of the FRACM, but it has become clear that we cannot be an equitable state without rural and urban solidarity.

In this issue of Statewide Stories, I’ll be spotlighting the Northwest Minnesota Arts Council (NWMAC) also known as region 1 of the eleven regional arts councils across the state. I have lived in Minnesota most of my life, but all I really know about region 1 has been limited to what I’ve read in NWMAC’s biennial plan.

NWMAC’s designated region is Kittson, Marshall, Norman, Pennington, Polk, Red Lake, and Roseau counties. Our region is made up of mostly rural communities of 500 – 2,000 people. There are medium sized communities, including East Grand Forks, Crookston, and Thief River Falls which have populations of around 8,000. Geographically the region covers 10.5% of the state. It is home to 85,000 people, according to the 2017 census.

NWMAC serves arts organizations; artists; non-arts nonprofit organizations; cities; community education; and parks and recreation departments; school districts; and artist-driven initiatives. Most arts organizations, in our region, have budgets below $30,000 and they do not have paid staff.

Immediately, the fact that the NW region has three times the landmass of the Metro with .2% of the population stood out to me, so I talked with NWMAC’s executive director, Mara Hanel, to learn more about the Northwest (NW) region, the NW arts community, and what it’s like to be a regional arts council in rural Minnesota.

Mara shared stories about small communities that have come together to repurpose old vacant buildings for making and sharing art. Like the Middle River Community Theater that took over an old train depot, and the Stephen Arts Center that converted a church for gathering the community around art. Mara explained that, “These communities are so tight-knit that if there is a desire to create art spaces, they make it happen!”

Additionally, Mara talked about the growing Somali community in East Grand Forks, which has had a significant influence on NWMAC’s work with diversity in the region. Because the NW region is so rural, NWMAC provides more than just grants for their communities, they offer direct support and art programming as well – including podcasts. Currently, they are working with the Somali community on an exhibit and celebration of the Somali culture to take place in their gallery in Thief River Falls and East Grand Forks this year. She believes this is an important step in creating opportunities for cross-cultural exchanges and understanding.

Talking with Mara was a great reminder that it doesn’t matter where you go, artists are always finding ways to bring people together, to activate spaces, and create cultural experiences. I hadn’t thought much about visiting Northwest Minnesota, but I’ll be looking out for the announcement about the Somali festival this year and hope to attend.

To learn more about their work visit: https://www.northwestminnesotaartscouncil.org

Stephen Arts Center – a front of a stone church with a sign that reads “Community Arts Center”.
Middle River Community Theater – a one story train depot with white clapboard and a dark roof.
Radio host Ron West ready to do an interview of an artist on Pioneer 90.1 that will become a podcast – a person with glasses, a charcoal beard, wearing a purple hooded sweatshirt sits with a microphone and sound board equipment.
NWMAC’s current exhibit called Elemental that is on display until the end of September 2021 – a gallery space with white walls, several framed 2D artworks, gray floor, and a sign on a glass door that says Elementals.

Statewide Stories is a dedicated space for stories about the Forum of Regional Arts Councils of Minnesota, spotlighting the work of Regional Arts Councils throughout the state and sharing lessons about our equity journey.

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