Arrowhead Regional Arts Council

FY20-21 Biennial Plan


The Arrowhead Regional Arts Council is required by the State of Minnesota to submit a Biennial Plan to match the state’s Biennial budgeting process. The plan outlines the programs and services that ARAC will provide for the two years beginning July 1, 2019. The plan makes several substantial changes to our grants programs and we would like to get feedback on those changes.

This Biennial Plan is due to the state on May 15, 2019. We will hold a public hearing on the plan at our offices in Duluth on Wednesday, April 3. We will also take input on the plan via email until April 10. A revised plan will be discussed at the meeting of our board on April 18, 2019. We will then make final adjustments to the plan before submission.

Public Hearing
Wednesday, April 3, 2019, 5:30 p.m.
ARAC Offices
424 W. Superior St., Suite 104
Duluth MN 55802

Or via email. Please send comments, suggestions, or questions to:

The Arrowhead Regional Arts Council’s mission is to facilitate and encourage local arts development. This mission statement grows from a conviction that the arts improve the quality of life in the region.

The region we serve makes up the northeast corner of Minnesota and includes Carlton, St. Louis, Itasca, Aitkin, Lake, Koochiching, and Cook counties. The area is larger than 18,000 square miles, making it larger than nine states. The population is just over 324,000. The main cities in the area include Duluth, Grand Marais, Ely, International Falls, Virginia, Hibbing, Grand Rapids, Cloquet, and Moose Lake. About a quarter of the population lives in and around Duluth. We are the largest regional arts council in the state by land area.

The ARAC region is also very sparsely populated. The total population per square mile is 18, making this region one of the least populated in the state. If the Duluth area is excluded, the region is the most sparsely populated in the state.

Although this region is 4th in population among the regions served by the regional arts councils, it is 2nd in overall economic impact of the arts, including 2nd in arts-generated housing income, and 2nd in creative job density and total audience, following the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council region. The ARAC region is also 3rd in the number of arts and culture organizations with 143, 28% of which are focused on the performing arts.

According to Minnesota Compass, the ethnic distribution is predominantly White/Caucasian with 91.1% of the total population identifying as such. This is followed by American Indian/Alaska Native (2.8%), Two or more races (2.1%), Hispanic/Latino (1.7%), and Black/African American (1.3%). Foreign-born residents make up 2.2% of the population.

The household median income of the area is $51,626, more than $16,000 below the Minnesota median annual income.

 Needs Assessment
The state asks each Regional Arts Council to conduct a Needs Assessment at least once every four years. ARAC’s last needs assessment was during the 2015-2016 year, but ARAC decided to do a new Needs Assessment a year early to help plan this Biennial Plan.

State rules state that the Needs Assessment to be carried out in a manner that ensures input from the arts community and the arts involved public. In addition, the Needs Assessment should be conducted to:

  • Assess and prioritize constituent needs
  • Evaluate appropriate community and regional resources to meet those needs
  • Determine the practicality of continuing existing programming activities, or the feasibility of developing new programs

To do this, we combined four elements into the Needs Assessment:

  1. A review of outreach during the past 18 months to the arts community and the arts-involved public that relates to the needs in the region.
  1. Special outreach meetings to groups representing differing geographic and artistic communities. We held three special outreach meetings to discuss the needs assessment with a broad variety of community members interested in the arts, but not necessarily applicants or previous grantees. In fact, two of the meetings were held in areas in which we had not been heavily present in the past: Carlton and Northhome. We also held an additional meeting in Duluth. Between the three meetings, we engaged more than 40 artists in focus group atmospheres
  1. A staff survey of other community and regional resources available to meet those needs.
  2. An online survey for both previous grant applicants and others in the arts community and the arts-involved public that we can reach.

The most important findings of the Needs Assessment:

  • Arts Ecosystems are very different across our region. The Duluth area is fairly urban with a variety of support mechanisms for artists. The Grand Marais, Ely, and Grand Rapids area have developed into regional art hubs with moderate amounts of resources. The region also has very rural areas, where artists are very spread out. And there are many small towns where there is some interest in art, but arts organizations are struggling or clearly not as developed as in other communities.
  • Residents clearly want a fair and equitable grants system that respects the diversity of the region, including the diversity of residents, art forms, and geographic areas.
  • One clear desire from across the region, in urban areas as well as rural areas, was the desire for more chances to meet and connect with other artists. In Duluth, the need was for more discipline-specific connections while in more rural areas any chance to connect with others interested in the arts is desired.
  • There is a clear need for more training and technical assistance for the business of art. Artists want training on how to sell their work and make a living at their work. They are not specific about the form of this training. In some cases, they want formal classes, but also groups that met together to discuss the issues. How changing technology has affected this (for example, evolving social media) is very important.
  • They would like more entry points to get assistance, and this assistance is not just financial but also technical.
  • Community representatives would like more assistance, both financial and technical, in making art more central in their efforts at community vitality and livability.
  • More support for arts learning opportunities for interested residents of all ages.
  • Support for travel to opportunities (educational and presentations) outside of the region, both within the state and outside of the state.
  • A revisiting of the individual artist awards to make adjustments to the cost of living and make more money available for projects.

Description of the Planning Process
ARAC’s board has a Review Planning/Process Committee that is responsible for planning for ARAC. This group has met all year discussing issues of concern related to the council’s programs and services. In addition, the staff has had quite a few meetings both internally and externally about what kinds of services are working, what should be added, and what have lived out their useful life. In addition, several sessions of the full board have been devoted to issues relating to the Biennial Plan. We also had a full board discussion of this year’s report on the Minnesota State Arts Board and the Regional Arts Councils by the Office of Legislative Auditor.

We have circulated ideas developed in the planning process to constituents, board members, and others for feedback and are holding a public hearing on April 3, 2019.


  1. Have a set of grant programs that support the state goals for the arts and meet needs identified in our Needs Assessment process
  2. Apply an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion lens to all of our programming. This will include making sure our grants panel process is reviewed through a DEI lens as well as new state guidelines related to diversity in competitive grant review. And it will also require us to make sure that our outreach proactively connects with diverse audiences and increases participation in our programming from diverse audiences
  3. Have a non-grants slate of services that support the state goals as well as meet the needs identified in the Needs Assessment. This will include programming that boosts the business skills of artist to allow them to more fully participate in the economic diversity of the region; programming that helps to connect artists to each other; and have a set of services that is responsive to the multiple arts ecosystems in our diverse region
  4. Develop individual program goals and outcomes in all programs as recommended by the OLA Report.

Program Information
Grant Programs and Services

For individual grants, applicants must be at least eighteen years old, a U.S. citizen or have permanent resident status, and a resident of Aitkin, Carlton, Cook, Itasca, Koochiching, Lake, or St. Louis County for at least six months and remain a Minnesota resident for the duration of the project. Individuals enrolled in arts-related degree programs are ineligible to apply. Past grant recipients with overdue, unaccepted, or falsified final reports are also ineligible.

For organizational grants, applicants can be: State-registered and federally recognized non-profit, tax-exempt organizations; accredited schools, tribal governments, or units of government. To be eligible, the organization must be located in the following Arrowhead counties: Aitkin, Cook, Carlton, Itasca, Koochiching, Lake, or St. Louis. If the group has not yet received non-profit, tax-exempt status, you may apply by using another nonprofit organization, accredited school, tribal government, or other unit of government as a fiscal sponsor. For our operating support program, the organization must be primarily an arts organization, which we define as the arts being at least 75% of an organization’s budget.

Grants proposed for this biennium:

  • A new Distinguished Regional Artist Grant Program which will provide larger project grants to working professional artists that represent the diversity of our region. For FY20, we plan to award 4 grants of $6,000. For FY21, we plan to award six grants of $8,000. The criteria for this program includes artistic quality of both past and current work, the ability of the artist to complete the work, and a determination by the panel evaluated the grants that the slate of grants reflects the diversity of our region (with diversity as defined by the state’s Office of Grants Management best practices for competitive grants review). This grant will be funded by our support from the McKnight Foundation.
  • A new Project Grant for Artists that provides up to $4,000 for artists to execute a project. The criteria for this grant would be artistic quality, impact on the artist, and the ability to execute the proposed project. The grant would be funded by Legacy Arts Access funds.
  • A new Arts and Cultural Heritage program that provides up to $5,000 for either individuals or organizations for arts activities with both a community significance and authenticity to the community. Criteria include Community Significance, Capacity to complete the work, and authenticity/cultural connection. This grant would be funded by Legacy Arts and Cultural Heritage funds.
  • An Arts Ecosystem grant of up to $5,000 for projects that help networks of artists. Criteria include community significance and capacity. Duluth organizations would be limited to a maximum of one grant per year. Funded by Legacy Arts Access funds.
  • New simplified small grants, including a Working Artist Professional Development Grant (criteria impact and ability), An Educational Opportunity Grant (criteria impact and ability), and an Emergency Needs and Equipment Grant (impact and need). These grants would be up to $750. The working artist grant would be funded with McKnight Foundation funds and the remainder by Legacy Arts Access funds.
  • A Public Art project grant will be added to our roster of grants in Fiscal Year 2021. Criteria would be Community Impact, Community. Support, and Ability. A 50% cash match would be required. No community could receive this award more than once every three years. Legacy Arts Access funds.
  • We plan to continue the following programs
    • Artist Access grants of up to $1,000 for first-time grant recipients. Criteria include Impact on the artist’s career, artistic quality, and ability. Funded by Legacy Arts Access funds.
    • Arts Learning grants of up to $5,000 for both individuals and organizations. Criteria includes educational value, impact, and ability. Funded by Legacy Arts Education funds.
    • Rural and Community Art Project grants of up to $5,000 for organizations outside of Duluth with arts budgets of less than $40,000 per year. Criteria is artistic vision, impact, and ability. Funded by Legacy Arts Access funds.
    • Art Project grants of up to $5,000 for organizations. Criteria is artistic vision, impact, and ability. Funded by state General Funds.
    • Operating Support grants to organizations of up to $8,000 for primarily arts organizations in the region. Criteria is artistic excellence and leadership, management and fiscal responsibility, assessment and evaluation, and community accessibility.
  • The Career Development, Technology/Equipment, Fellowship, and Quick Start programs will all be discontinued.

Non-Grant Programs and Services:

  • A Business of Art workshop series. This will be offered both in Duluth and occasionally in the rest of the region. We already have gone through training by Springboard for the Arts.
  • Support for the Rural Art and Culture Summit happening in Grand Rapids Oct. 3-5, 2019.
  • We are also beginning a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force to review all of our programming to make sure it meets the needs of all groups in our region.
  • Increased technical support for artists, arts organizations, and other groups going after funding for the arts, whether for ARAC programs or support from others.
  • A continuation of existing services including
    • Advocacy work on the importance of art in Minnesota.
    • Awarding annually the Arrowhead Arts Awards.
    • Continuing with workshops, information sessions, and other training opportunities for artists and arts organizations.
    • Work with the Regional Arts Council Forum.
    • Work with the Minnesota State Arts Board.
    • Professional Development activity including learning best practices in arts granting and grant processes in general.
    • Technical assistance to communities that request support of public art or creative placemaking.
    • Arts development work such as the Iron Range Creative Communities group.

 Grant Making and Monitoring Process
Every grant program is announced at the beginning of the grant application period. We use the Foundant grants program for applications and monitoring. Each program application is open for six weeks before deadline dates. Application questions are available for all programs at the beginning of the fiscal year.

After the deadline, applications are reviewed by staff for completeness and eligibility.

Two grant programs –Art Project and Operating Support—are reviewed by the full board. All other grant programs have review panels made up of a combination of board members and community members. We work hard to make sure panels are representative of the diverse region we serve. Staff and panel members must adhere to strict conflict of interest rules based on the state’s definition of conflict of interest. Each panel member is given access to the grant applications two weeks in advance of panel meetings. Only panel members present at the panel meetings are allowed to score the grants. Staff makes no recommendations on the grants, though starting next year, staff will make recommendations to the full board on our three new small grant programs. In addition, we plan to adapt rules based on the Office of Grants Management policies about post-scoring recommendations, especially reviewing grant selections for appropriate diversity. After review, the full ARAC Board votes to accept or reject the recommendations of the panels.

After board approval, applicants are notified by the staff of the board’s decision. Successful applicants then must fill out an online grant agreement, after which grant checks are written.

Our monitoring process involves requiring that all grant recipients notify us in advance of changes to how they are using the grant funds. Occasionally, significant changes are brought to ARAC’s Executive Committee or full board for review. Staff also regularly attends grant-funded events. Organizations receiving operating support have a required site visit every two years. We also monitor publicity for funded events to make sure state requirements related to Legacy funds are followed. All grantees must also write final reports documenting their projects and how the money was spent. Staff then reviews the final reports and works with grantees to clear up any questions.

Other Information

 ARAC’s Vision
We believe that art strengthens communities, stimulates diversity of expression and communication, and commemorates communities and cultures. ARAC believes all people should have opportunities to engage in the arts. Accordingly, ARAC’s vision for the region is that:
• The arts are integrated into the social, political, and economic fabric and identity of every community in the region.
• Artists, arts organizations, and arts activities thrive and contribute to the regional economy.
• Community members and audiences are arts literate.