(BPT) - Northern Minnesota is known for its rugged individuals, deliberate lifestyle, pristine waterways, mines producing the nation's iron ore, endless tracts of forests and wilderness getaways. It’s not exactly known as a center for the arts.

But this isn’t a fair characterization. In the past few decades, Ely, the gateway to the Boundary Waters, has also become a vibrant arts community.

Many visitors who come up here looking for the quintessential wilderness experience are surprised by the unique characteristics of this northern town. If you’ve never been to Ely, or if it’s been awhile since you visited, here are four ways that Ely has become a magnet for art and artists.

Fine arts and photography. Ely is home to one of the world’s most renowned photographers, Jim Brandenburg. His gallery, located in the heart of downtown Ely, is an elegant display of original works and prints. A true feast for the eyes, his photography captures the essence of the north woods and the Ely area.

Public art galore. There is great art in museums, but to really come alive, art should be on full display to the public. For almost two decades, the Ely Greenstone Public Art Committee has been sponsoring large-scale public art murals that illustrate the sides of several buildings in town.

Home to hundreds of artists. Over 200 artists call Ely home, but if you consider that only about 3,400 people live here, that’s a pretty high ratio! The artists here have left their mark on the town, and you can feel the creative energy on the streets. To see their work, you can visit one of the many galleries in town.

Art and culture festivals. In anticipation of bringing stage and screen entertainment to town, Ely's historic State Theater's Marquee has been redone as part of a larger process of revitalizing downtown. The other major theater attractions include the Northern Lakes Arts Association’s spring musical and the Prairie Fire Children's Theater.

Throughout the year there are several art festivals in town. The premier summer festival is the Blueberry/Art Festival, which features more than 260 artists and craftspeople, and brings over 40,000 visitors to town. During the festival, the town goes a little blueberry crazy, so bring your appetite! Other events include the Winter Festival (you’ll need to bundle up for that one) and the Harvest Moon Festival. Live music fans won’t want to miss the Boundary Waters Blues Festival.

Take an early-morning paddle in one of the nearby lakes or a walk through a birch grove and it’s not hard to see why so many artists have found inspiration in the Ely area. It is one of those rare places where a distinct artistic side and natural heritage come together.