Thanks to a bit of good fortune, Ely  has an active arts scene. In 1988 a painting that hung inconspicuously in the Ely Public Library for over 50 years was discovered to be Breakfast in the Garden, a long-lost masterpiece by American impressionist Frederick Frieseke. A New York collector bought the painting for over $500,000, and the city used the proceeds to create the Donald G. Gardner Trust.
Besides funding the library, much of the money goes to the Northern Lakes Arts Association (218/365-5070, www.elyarts.org ), which sponsors a wide variety of theater, music, dance, literary, and visual arts events throughout the year, including summer concerts in Whiteside Park.
The city’s biggest celebration is the Blueberry Arts Festival (www.ely.org ), held the last weekend in July. Besides the 250 arts and crafts exhibitors, there are copious children’s activities and food vendors. The Blueberry Arts Festival is so successful that Ely repeats it the weekend after Labor Day as the Harvest Moon Festival.
The Boundary Waters Blues Fest (www.elyblues.com ) blows into town every year in late July or early August, bringing with it national acts.
The Ely Winter Festival, starting the first Thursday in February, is focused on snow sculpture, but there’s much more to see and do.