In 2011 and 2012, The McKnight Foundation asked the Center for the Study of Art & Community to help them in their efforts to learn more about the structure and dynamics of Minnesota's artist ecosystem. As a part of this initiative, the Foundation and the Center jointly developed a six-question narrative survey designed to give artists an opportunity to reflect on the environment, conditions, and motivations that affect their work. The research coincided with preparations for the 30th anniversary of the Foundation's Artist Fellowship Program. Established in 1982, this program has provided over 1,500 fellowship awards in 13 arts discipline categories. These fellowship recipients and artists receiving McKnight funds
regranted by the state's 11 Regional Arts Councils (RACs) in 2011 comprised the population for the study.
The research design was informed by two core assumptions related to community cultural development. The first, the concept of the "ecology of culture," regards artists, arts organizations, audiences, funders, etc., as parts of a system whose interdependent mechanisms are best understood when considered as a whole. Our second foundational premise is that cultural ecosystems are highly dependent on the health of the artists working within them. In our 2009 evaluation of the McKnight Arts Program, we noted that the Foundation's Artist Fellowship Program was critical to the health and retention of Minnesota's artists.
At that time, we also found unanimity within the state's arts community; this talent pool was a driving force for the high quality, variety, and increasing availability of the arts in the state.