Rural arts: bursting at the seams in northern Minnesota

Atlanta. Pittsburgh. New Orleans. Grand Rapids. These are just a few stops on the 2014 Trampled by Turtles tour. The first three cities reflect a certain pattern – large and metro. Grand Rapids, Minnesota (yes Minnesota, not Michigan), however, is a bit of an outlier.

Nestled between white pine forests and clear blue lakes, Grand Rapids is the rural Minnesota community that’s home to the Reif Performing Arts Center.  Each year, more than 21,000 patrons flock to the Reif to take in world-class performances ranging from Zorongo Flamenco to Celtic Fire, James Sewell Ballet to county music star Tracy Lawerence.

As a cultural hub in northern Minnesota, the Reif attracts people from all over the region and is a major economic driver, having an annual local impact of $2 million (according to the Minnesota Citizens for the Arts).

For more than 30 years, the Reif has been a community meeting place.

Reif President David Marty says, “It’s a place where you congregate. It’s filled with people you know, and maybe some people you don’t know, but regardless, it’s social. Through the arts you can explore ideas that are uncomfortable to talk about in other forums. People can come together and understand a different perspective. I bring my family and friends, but at the same time, you’re exchanging ideas in a social environment with others from our greater community. That type of experience is attractive to everyone.”

Attractive, yes. But the problem was that the building was busting at the seams. With sub-par restrooms and a too-small foyer, the Reif set out on a quest to better the organization for the next 30 years of patrons.

They received a big boost when they secured $3,897,000 in the bonding bill this legislative session. This win is the result of years of hard work by dedicated community volunteers, passionate staff and local legislators.

“This project will change the role of the Reif Center in our community and in our region,” said Marty. “We want to continue to be the front porch of this community while serving a broader region.”

To track the progress of the project, follow the Reif Center’s blog. To join the national conversation about rural arts, consider joining in the Rural Arts Happy Hour hosted by the National Rural Assembly on May 30. Lastly, to see what rural Minnesotan’s are saying about the arts in their communities, check out our Rural Pulse findings.

Blandin Foundation has been a committed supporter of the Reif Center for more than 20 years. During the Spring 2014, Blandin trustees awarded a $1.5 million dollar Blandin grant to renovate and expand Reif facilities.