New York Mills (population appx. 1,200) was founded in 1884 by Finnish immigrants. The city is located in Otter Tail County, which contains 1,048 of Minnesota’s lakes. Originally founded as a lumber mill, the once abundant white pine tree forests are now gone, making agriculture the dominant industry in the region. Additionally, arts, recreation, and tourism are becoming increasingly important for economic development in the area.
The New York Mills Arts Retreat and Regional Cultural Center is a multidisciplinary arts organization that has been dedicated to expanding the cultural and creative opportunities for rural Americans for nearly three decades. One of its signature events, the Great American Think-Off, a philosophy contest for the ordinary person, began in 1993 and hosts an essay contest and culminating live debate each year on the second Saturday of June. Staff of the Cultural Center produce and sponsor several more annual community festivals, including the Fish House Festival each July, an annual large-scale street theater Puppet Pageant each August, and the Longest Night Music Festival celebrating the Winter Solstice each December 21st.
The Center presents a year-round performing arts series, displays visual art in their historic gallery on Main Avenue in New York Mills, and offers classes and workshops for all ages with a focus on lifelong learning. The Arts Retreat, an artist residency program which offers 2-6 week stays for artists of all disciplines, has been in continuous operation since 1990. Staff and visiting artists work regularly in local schools, senior centers, and more to enhance arts learning.