When you hear the word "arts," what comes to mind?

If you answered "opera," "theater" or "art museums," you are correct. But art covers a host of other activities: telling stories to your children, singing in a choir, playing an instrument in a band, quilting, performing in a school play or community theater or even creating a special meal. It's all art, and you may be part of the Park Rapids arts community without even being aware.

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The Park Rapids Lakes Area Arts Council (PRLAAC), an umbrella organization for 16 arts and cultural groups in the greater Park Rapids area, was organized in 2005 "to promote excellence in the arts through creation, education and performance." Representatives from the groups meet monthly to share information, coordinate calendars and initiate new arts projects. You are probably familiar with many of the groups, including these:

• Art Leap

• Headwaters Center for Lifelong Learning

• Hubbard County Historical Society

• Nemeth Art Center

• Northern Light Opera

• Park Rapids Area Library

• Park Rapids Classic Chorale

• Park Rapids Community Education

• ...and many more.

These organizations welcome new members and audiences. Some, like the Park Rapids Area Community Band and Northern Light Opera Company, include participants who live nearly 100 miles away. Many draw audiences from neighboring communities, and even from outside the state.

On Jan. 3, Creative MN, Minnesota Citizens for the Arts and PRLAAC released a survey indicating the arts have a large impact on Hubbard County. The study found that the total annual economic impact of 15 arts and culture organizations, their audiences, 170 artists and creative workers in Hubbard County is $1.6 million. An in-depth article about the meeting at Armory Square can be found in the Jan. 6 edition of the Enterprise. Information on the study can be seen at www.creativemn.org/regional-profiles/region-2/hubbard-county.

So, why is art so important to Hubbard County residents and visitors? In addition to helping the economy, art helps us express our feelings through singing, painting, acting, storytelling, cooking and many other avenues. Art creates beauty and calms us in stressful situations. Art gives us a way to communicate when we can't put our feelings into words.

Over the next months, watch the Enterprise for more information about what's happening in the arts in Hubbard County. Learn why Park Rapids has become an arts destination and what it means for the future of this community.