New York Mills - Homegrown Tools

New York Mills, MN

Updated: 2022

This town invests in the creative energy of rural artists. Through a regional cultural center, New York Mills attracts outside talent and energy into their town, bringing fresh perspective on the community’s challenges and opportunities.

Population2020 1,249
Median Household Income2020$45,000
Poverty Rate 201713.7%
Proximity to Urban Center 78 miles to Fargo, N.D.
Proximity to Interstate Highway 45 miles
Case Study Time Frame 1990-1998
Municipal Budget 2016-20171.4 million
Data Source: US Census, American Community Survey
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Nearly 80 miles from any significant city, the small town of New York Mills demonstrates the potential for turning rural arts and culture into economic development. Through bold and forward-thinking investment by local leaders, the community created the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center in 1992. The center hosts an artist-in-residency program, art exhibits, theater productions and musical performances, including international caliber events, all of which make the arts accessible to rural residents. Further, the center set off a wave of new business creation. In the first six years that the cultural center was open, 17 new businesses opened in town, creating 350 jobs.


What are the lessons learned from this story?


Communities that embrace the ideas and energy that newcomers can bring stand to gain in the long run. John Davis, a civic entrepreneur, brought new ideas about the importance of arts and culture to community life that were embraced by community leaders. Rather than scoff at his ideas, the community was willing to support and work with him, demonstrating how volunteerism, investment in the arts and public-private partnerships can all come together to the benefit of the community.


Figure out ways to reduce risks on out-of-the-ordinary projects. Investing a large sum of money in the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center represented a significant risk for the community. By structuring this investment so that the town had ownership of the cultural building and by designing exhibits that were attractive to both residents and tourists, Davis created a situation where the town would gain whether the project worked or not. New York Mills shows how small towns can create win-win situations by reducing risk on innovative strategies.