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Eileen Walsh, executive director the West Dakota Arts Council, stands on Main Avenue in downtown Bismarck beside one of the council's past community arts projects which placed local artists' work on traffic signal boxes. 

A national study has determined Bismarck’s art community has a $43.5 million economic impact.

For the first time, Dakota West Arts Council participated in the Americans for the Arts Arts & Economic Prosperity study, setting a baseline to measure future impact.

“It shows we’re part of the economic development scene and what we do is important to the community in that way,” said Eileen Walsh, DWAC's executive director. 

DWAC identified 129 local nonprofit arts and cultural organizations for the survey. Of that, 31 responded. Data gathered from those organizations showed they spent $24.4 million and employed the equivalent of 1,670 full-time workers, paying those employees a total of $29.3 million in 2015.

A little over two-thirds of the responding organizations were directly related to the arts, including Art Gallerie on Main, Flickertail Woodcarvers, Dakota Media Access Film Festival and Northern Plains Dance. The other responding organizations had a broader focus, such as the Bismarck Event Center, Bismarck Public Schools, Buckstop Junction and the Bismarck-Mandan Development Association.

For the second portion of the survey, DWAC gathered data from audiences at area arts events. At those events, 674 people agreed to take the surveys, which asked where they worked and their income, as well as how much they spent in the community on items, such as new clothing or dinner, in relation to attending the event.

Based on that data, the study found event audiences totaled 783,606 people, who spent $19.1 million total, excluding the cost of admission.

The arts also led to $3.7 million in revenue collected by government entities through sales and income taxes.

The study results show, for all the financial support given to the arts locally, a return on investment is given back to the community, according to Walsh.

“This shows them what they’re investment is churning out,” she said.

The arts play another economic development role in Bismarck by attracting new workforce to the area, according to Walsh. The arts are also a big draw for young professionals, she said.

BMDA President Brian Ritter said art, particularly public art, has been important when competing for talent because it is one of the things the city can use to distinguish itself.

DWAC awards $50,000 in grants annually to organizations for scholarships so kids whose parents may not be able to afford it can send their children to programs, such as Theo Arts School.

The arts have taken a more prominent place in the community as public arts projects have added visibility, said Walsh, adding that more projects are on the horizon.

One resident is donating a sculpture by Sturgis, S.D., artist Dale Claude Lamphere to be displayed at the Bismarck Event Center this spring, Walsh said.

DWAC is working with Bismarck Parks and Recreation on a couple projects, including installing “poetry boxes” along park walking paths. These will showcase poems written by local artists and the featured poems will be changed every so often. The groups are also working on installing a Peace Pole in Peace Park.

The Peace Pole Project is an international movement of handcrafted monuments displaying the message “May Peace Prevail on Earth,” serving as reminders to visualize and pray for world peace. There are already a number of Peace Poles in town, but Walsh said Peace Park’s would be the largest and feature 12 to 16 languages.

Other North Dakota communities to participate in the Americans for the Arts study included Fargo, Grand Forks, Minot and Jamestown.

In those communities, the study found the arts have a $109.2 million economic impact, employing 4,006 and contributing $10 million to state and local coffers.

Nationwide, the arts were found to have brought in $166.3 billion.

For more information on DWAC, go online to

Reach Jessica Holdman at 701-250-8261 or


Business Reporter