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"What if?" is an intriguing question

Dayna Del Val, President and CEO, The Arts Partnership

Last week I attended the Executive Expo, hosted by the100, inc. Teresa Lewis, owner of Get Inspired, was the evening keynote speaker. She asked a question that has had me thinking ever since.

She asked, "What if?"

In the moment, I asked my tablemate, "What if the arts were fully funded in the Metro? What would our community look like?"

I'll come back to that, but here are some other "What ifs" I have been thinking about:

What if Doug Burgum hadn't "literally bet the farm" to build Great Plains?

What if Dr. Roger Gilbertson hadn't gathered a group of invested people to create what eventually became the Downtown Community Partnership in Fargo?

What if President Joe Chapman hadn't believed NDSU could have a Division I football program?

What if Robert Asp hadn't built his dream Viking ship to sail to Norway?

What if the Fargo Public Schools had said no to covering the debt owed on the facilities at Bluestem?

What if Sanford Health had not invested in Meritcare?

Here are my answers:

We wouldn't have the second largest Microsoft campus in the world where thousands of employees work, and they and their families don't make up a big piece of our community and our tax base.

We wouldn't have a nationally recognized restored downtown Fargo, the beautiful heart of our community, and where, again, a significant piece of our tax base exists.

We wouldn't have the pride of being six-time National Champions of the FCS, and NDSU wouldn't have the incredible growth in programming, enrollment and research it, and the larger community, has enjoyed.

We wouldn't have a fabulous addition to our skyline with a facility that provides significant regional programming and is a powerful tourist destination.

We wouldn't have one of the premier outdoor performing facilities in the nation, and we wouldn't have the kind of growth that has exploded in Moorhead around it.

We wouldn't have a once-in-a-multi-generation, state-of-the-art healthcare facility that now serves the region and brings thousands of people to the Metro every year to receive top-notch medical care and also to stay in hotels, shop, eat, drink and more, all feeding our tax base.

So I ask again, "What if the arts were fully funded in the Metro?"

What if they were better utilized as an asset in continuing to create the kind of community we all want to live in? The kind that has an evolving "it" factor, the kind that attracts and retains employees and businesses, that engages every member of our community and produces the best educated citizens in the region?

We are at a precipice: the arts can likely continue as they are, doing the good work they are doing, or they can be fully supported and freed up to forever change the direction of our community.

What if?

Dayna Del Val, president and CEO of The Arts Partnership, writes a monthly column for Variety. For more information on the arts, go to