Arts, Culture Organizations Point to Economic Impact

minervinichristieStormcloud Brewing serves up craft beers while the Benzie Symphony plays inside the pub. Traverse City Chamber of Commerce members confer during Leadership @ the Movies at the Bijou. Downtown art walks add vitality to the streets, showcasing artists while driving retail sales.

These are just a few examples of the creative steam building across the sectors.

When the former Traverse City State Hospital stood in severe disrepair after years of vacancy and neglect, Ray Minervini was asked how to revitalize the building after it stood vacant for so long.

His answer? “Art on the walls, and music in the halls.”

Today, The Village at the Grand Traverse Commons stands as a thriving hub of commercial, residential and cultural economic activity. The Minervini group, which owns 63-acres of the original 500-acre site, has been redeveloping the historic buildings and properties since 2002.

Integrating the arts has been a consistent thread as progress continues.

“For 12 years, I’ve been responsible for hanging local and regional fine art in the Mercato, and can say with some certainty that we have the largest show space in northern Michigan when you consider linear feet,” said Christie Minervini, owner of Gallery 50. “At any given time, we are representing 10-12 artists at the Commons.

“I think the artwork, festivals, live music and poetry readings add a unique flavor to the shopping and dining experience,” she continued. “These cultural elements have majorly contributed to the success of our businesses over time and have made the Village a stand-out destination.”


Creative Many Michigan reports that Michigan communities see an average $53 in economic activity produced for every $1 invested in the arts. The statewide advocacy agency has been gathering data on creative industries as well as creative nonprofit for the past five years.

In its latest Creative State Michigan report published in early 2016, Michigan’s creative industries accounted for 74,000 jobs in 9,000 workplaces and $3.6 billion in wages, which equate to 3.1 percent of all wages in the state. Northwest Michigan shows conservative estimates at more than 1,300 employees, $51 million in wages and 500 establishments in creative industries.

Creative nonprofits accounted for $610 million in economic activity, including $208.5 million in wages and 24,490 jobs.

The creative industries sector is as broad as it is diverse, ranging from individual artists, musicians, graphic designers and writers to major institutions, private enterprise and nonprofit organizations.

Creative Many’s president and CEO Jennifer Goulet stresses arts’ role as an economic engine. Reporting at the Northwest Michigan Arts and Culture Summit at Interlochen earlier this year, she noted arts and culture generated 24.9 million cultural visitors and more than $2.8 billion in state tourism revenues. This represents 21 percent of total state tourism revenues and accounts for more than sporting events, golf, boating, sailing, hunting, fishing, hiking and biking combined.


The State of Michigan will invest $677,522 this year into the region’s arts, culture and communities through grants from Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs (MCACA). More than 40 organizations in eight Northwest Michigan counties will benefit from FY2017 funding which, in turn, leverages more than double that amount in private sector cash matches and stimulates further economic development.

Beneficiaries include such anchors as Interlochen Center for the Arts, NMC’s Dennos Museum Center and Crooked Tree Art Center, but funding also extends to arts education funds for Mancelona Schools, public arts projects in Boyne City, operational support for Frankfort’s Elizabeth Lane Oliver Art Center, Michigan Legacy Art Park, Traverse Symphony Orchestra, Old Town Playhouse, Parallel 45, the Historic Vogue Theatre and the Great Lakes Chamber Orchestra. Capital project investments range from $8,750 for improvements at the City of Cadillac’s Sound Garden to $50,000 toward Glen Arbor Art Association’s $675,000 building expansion. Mini-grants extend funding and the economic multiplier to smaller organizations and communities, often providing stimulus for new endeavors and small operations to grow sustainability.

Mini-grantee Art Rapids! used funding over several years to build up its Walk of Art program, which partnered with Antrim County to revitalize an underused park. Today, the park features 30 rotating outdoor sculptures, art classes and community gatherings. The group recently sold its first art commission, which will now bring added revenue.

“Walk of Art is the future for art in the community…”This wouldn’t have happened if MCACA had not believed in a small sculpture park in Elk Rapids,” said past Walk of Art chair Lisa Cooley.


Cross-sector collaborations are key to maximizing the cultural economic multiplier. Benzie County is home to two examples where businesses prioritize partnering with the arts.

In Frankfort, Rick Schmitt has been at the center of business and community building since leading community efforts to buy and revitalize the Garden Theatre in 2009, and opening Stormcloud Brewery Co. next door in 2013. He previously spent 15 years in sales and marketing at Crystal Mountain, as well as time on the school board, Downtown Development Authority, Economic Development Corporation and Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Schmitt notes the importance of ‘third places’ for community gathering and conversation, and has opened Stormcloud to host such gatherings as the League of Women Voters Forum to performances by the Benzie Symphony and Oliver Art Center’s monthly volunteer social hours.

The brewery holds “Stormcloud Builds Community” events monthly in the summer and quarterly the rest of the year. They select one nonprofit that they believe is making a difference in northern Michigan and then helps to share the group’s message through the brewery’s network and raise funds. Oliver Art Center, Michigan Legacy Art Park, Lakeside Shakespeare and the Archipelago Project have each benefited.

“We’ve had a very successful relationship with Stormcloud for several years, and always look forward to our partnerships,” said Oliver Art Center executive director Mercedes Michalowski. “Rick is always ready to jump in and support local organizations in whichever way he can. He is always accommodating, supportive and full of ideas.”

Crystal Mountain Resort & Spa’s partnership with Michigan Legacy Art Park in Thompsonville is one of the region’s most longstanding. It began in 1995 when artist David Barr envisioned an outdoor sculpture park – a place where ‘artists could tell the story of Michigan through the fundamental materials of nature.’ Crystal Mountain owners Chris and Jim MacInnes and the Petritz family stepped forward with 30 acres of land on Crystal property. Today, Michigan Legacy Art Park hosts 40 sculptures interpreting state history along with 1.6 miles of hiking trails, poetry stones, an outdoor amphitheater and robust year-round programming. In addition to the property, Crystal provides support services and promotion.

“Our partnership with Crystal Mountain has worked for over 20 years with no end in sight because of our commitment to a shared vision, mutually beneficial outcomes and clear communication,” said Renee Hintz, executive director of Michigan Legacy Art Park. “When a business partners with an arts organization, even with little money exchanged, the validation, in-kind support, and visibility gained from such a partnership can increase the capacity of both sides exponentially. It is a win-win!”