The Creative Corner: Let's make Wadena stand out in the crowd

Rural towns that have invested in building their creative sectors have seen increased community pride, created jobs, and more name-recognition for their town.

A blue background with the text reading, "Norman's Creative Corner, Lead for Minnesota fellow" and a picture of a woman.
Monthly column from Lillian Norman, Lead for Minnesota fellow serving the city of Wadena.
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When people think of creativity, they do not typically think of economic vitality. It is a common thought that arts and culture are for the elite, other artists, or just ‘certain people,’ and that they do not bring much of a benefit to the community at large. In reality, arts and culture means business and it means stronger community.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the nation’s arts and culture sector is a $878 billion industry that supports 51 million jobs. That’s 4.5% of the nation’s economy—a larger share of GDP than sectors such as agriculture, transportation, and tourism. It might be easy to think that those statistics only apply to the bigger cities, however, in the 18 states in which 30% or more of the population lives in a rural area, the arts added $72.8 billion to those state economies and employed 636,815 workers . Rural towns that have invested in building their creative sectors have seen increased community pride, created jobs, and more name-recognition for their town. For example, the rural town of White Sulphur Springs, MT went from being in the poorest county in the nation to getting a brand-new main street, sporting goods store, brewery, bakery, new sidewalks and streetlights, school, and library—obviously, after their investment in creativity, they no longer hold the title of being in the poorest county.
Furthermore, investing in creativity does not solely mean planning an art museum or sculpture park; it means so much more than that. The fine arts like painting and sculpture are wonderful of course, but the most important part of investing in creativity is emphasizing the place where it is happening. A place is like raw material waiting to be crafted into a something more, and investment in creativity involves better understanding what the raw material is and what it can be turned into. It means asking: ‘What is the story of Wadena and how do we tell it?’
Oftentimes, we see towns in Minnesota such as Lanesboro, Grand Rapids, Granite Falls, Willmar, and many more applauded for their creative innovations; many of these towns have other natural attractions such as lakes or trails that go hand-in-hand with what they have accomplished with their creativity. Although Wadena may not have lakes, the area has plenty of wonderful attributes that could be accentuated by creativity. Many of the residents here know that Wadena is a great place to live, and investing in imaginative ways to amplify the town and the area not only will improve the economy, uplift the community, and beautify the area, it will demonstrate to the rest of the state and the nation that Wadena is a place to celebrate.
And the first step towards investing in the creativity of the town is creating a plan of how to do it. Constructing a Creative Community Plan for Wadena will provide the necessary strategy and community engagement to establish the foundation for the town’s vibrant, creative, and community-owned future.

Lillian Norman is a fellow with Lead for Minnesota serving the city of Wadena on artisan economic development. Email her at

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