Visitors listed the friendly, welcoming artists along with the high quality of art among their lasting impressions of the annual 14th Upper Minnesota River Arts Crawl Meander, according to responses recorded in “passports” following the weekend event. Those responses also indicated that the overall numbers for event remain strong, and in some areas, even increased.

Passports are offered to all who attend the Meander, and those responses are recorded and weighed afterwards, according to Kristi Fernholz, Senior Planner with the Upper Minnesota Valley RDC in Appleton, which oversees the five-county event.

This year the Meander was held on September 29-30 and October 1 with 39 artists exhibiting in 30 different studios between Granite Falls and Ortonville along the Minnesota River, and from Danvers to Dawson on the adjoining prairie. The artists reported average earnings of $2,870, up from $2,668 in 2016. On average, 11 studios were visited on the auto tour.

Three-fourths of the visitors considered the quality of the art as “excellent,” according to the passport data. One artist recalled a Minneapolis visitor who after entering his studio and looking around, said, “I’m just astounded. I didn’t realize this Crawl even existed, and I simply can’t believe the quality of art out here. You have an incredible artist’s community here.”

She apparently wasn’t alone in her thoughts. In the comments sections of those important passports, both the friendliness of the artists and the quality of their work was solid throughout. Numerous artists were singled out throughout the Meander, yet the overall theme of the comments reverted back to the welcoming and the quality of the art.

“Our numbers indicate that the Meander gets stronger every year,” Fernholz.

“We are also noticing that more and more local area residents are attending the Meander weekend. This year 45 percent of the studio visitors were from the five county (Big Stone, Chippewa, Lac qui Parle, Yellow Medicine and Swift) area, up from a little of a third from years’ past.”

A fourth of those attending ventured from the Twin Cities Metro area, and another 15 percent were from out of state. Fernholz added that half the visitors didn’t attend the Meander in 2016, and that a third reported this as their first time attending the three-day event. Of those, 73 percent said they plan to attend again next year and 19 percent said they may plan to attend next year (up from 17 percent in 2016).

Those visitors spent an average of $124 per customer on Meander art (up from $110 in 2016); $43 on food and gas ($36 in 2016); $11 on shopping, other than art ($12 in 2016); and $18 on lodging ($17 in 2016).

Of the money raised to organize the Meander through sponsors and artist fees, 60 percent was spent on products or services (printing, paper, advertising, graphic design and staffing) within the five-county area. Meander spent nearly $8,000 on advertising in 2017, or about 27 percent of the total budget.

Fernholz added that planning has already begun for the 15th annual Meander, and artists, sponsors, and art enthusiasts are already getting excited. “Meander is,” she said, “the highlight of our year as prairie-based artists.”