If you search “top trends of 2018,” the new ideas and cultural shifts of Southern Minnesota arts organizations probably won’t top the list, but local artists were growing their regional presence all the same. After all, local food, local beer and local merchandise have trended over the past few years. Why not local art?
As regional arts leaders looked back on the year, there was both a sense of accomplishment and a nod to the future as they look to carry the year’s momentum into 2019.
Art as public experience
Many Southern Minnesota arts organizations spent 2018 working to integrate art into communities in a very literal way — through public art. For Emily Guida Foos, executive director at Red Wing Arts, it’s a push to “incorporate art into other things.”
It’s no longer just for museums, but also buildings, parks and other public spaces. The organization will use grant money to create a community mural downtown, and other cities are developing similar projects. The work adds visual appeal, of course, but Foos noted that it can also drive tourism, helping the local economy.
“A lot of people used to think of art as an extra, but there is such a value when public art exists,” said Foos.
Creative placemaking projects—where cities work with artists to implement art, either visual or experiential , in downtown spaces—are also moving art out of galleries, into the everyday experience of walking down the street. The cities of Red Wing, Faribault, Northfield and Mankato, among others, have either established creative placemaking projects or are on their way. Mankato, for example, offers a walking sculpture tour, while in Faribault, a series of murals adorned downtown for much of autumn.
Along these same lines, some arts organizations like the Rochester Art Center saw a push in 2018 to invite audiences deeper into the process of understanding art. Whether it’s through book clubs, discussion groups or other interpretive frameworks, art is about more than hanging it on a wall and walking away.
The goal is to “create a series of engagements and interactions to help people understand art,” said Brian Austin, executive director at the Rochester Art Center. “It’s really about helping people explore art across a variety of ways on their own terms.”
A prime example is the “Art(ists) on the Verge 9” exhibit, a Minneapolis-based gallery that visited the center in late 2018. Through a series of five interactive installations, viewers experience art via virtual reality, iPads and motion-sensing devices—a far cry from viewing a painting on a wall. At the same time, the exhibit explores the impact of technology on modern life, echoing a larger cultural discussion emblematic of 2018 that will no doubt continue into 2019.
Including all artists
This year’s theater season was defined by a response to current events and the topics on people’s minds. Performances at the Northfield Arts Guild included “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” (gender issues), “Les Miserables” (mental illness, poverty) and original student-developed productions in the Young People’s Theater Workshop responding directly to climate change. Rochester, along with several locations throughout the state, hosted Somali artist Ifrah Mansour’s multimedia show “How to Have Fun in a Civil War,” engaging in the conversation around global refugees.
“People seem to be very engaged about what’s happening locally and in the world,” said Tim Peterson, executive director at the Northfield Arts Guild.
The Rochester Art Center is looking toward hosting a group show featuring Somali artists in 2019 as part of an effort to showcase the cultural and creative diversity of the region. It’s among the many organizations looking to be mindful of not only what art is displayed or performed, but also who is represented on the art scene.
In Northfield, it’s part of an effort to draw more artists into local programs, making it easier for newbies and experienced alike to get there work out there. Northfield and Red Wing are among the many whose arts organizations have begun to offer professional development programs for artists, including photography services, networking opportunities and professional panel discussions.
“We see hundreds of artists in a given year, so it’s really exciting to see the new work, the evolution of work and the continued exploration of the present moment and our culture,” said Peterson.
Foos expressed similar sentiment, noting southern Minnesota’s growing attraction of artists.
“People are moving into this region who are artists because communities support it, cities support it, and the culture supports it,” she said.
Southern Minnesota connections
Throughout the past few years, Southern Minnesota’s galleries, theaters and arts organizations have embraced the notion that many heads are better than one. Instead of operating separately, leaders are banding together for networking, sharing grant opportunities and swapping ideas about policies and procedures.
While the success of each individual organization is important, it’s arguably just as important to collaborate toward defining the area as an arts region, which helps everyone flourish.
“We’re building towards this broader scene and greater strength, and we’re building out these collaborations and building out these networks with others. And we’re finding that resonated with audiences, and we’re really looking forward to continuing that trend not only next year, but in the years to come,” said Austin.
This year, many arts nonprofits have gotten together for brainstorming sessions and worked together to market their opportunities. When one program tries something new, they not only have the benefit of initial input from other organizations, but they can also report their success (or lack thereof) back to the larger group, helping everyone move forward.
Artists themselves are also jumping on this trend and doing more collaborative projects, according to Peterson. Events like the Cannon River Clay Tour and annual Art Swap provide a chance to connect—something that is often more of a challenge when you’re located outside the density of the metro. Whether it’s creating together, sharing equipment or simply cleaning out studios and swapping tools, connection is key for regional artists. And art centers are happy to facilitate this.
“[We’re] the lens to focus it as a hub that it can all take place in. We just love to be the place that can elevate it and draw attention to it and get people involved,” said Peterson.
In other words, it appears there’s never been a better time participate in art—either on the creating or the receiving end—in southern Minnesota as 2019 kicks off.
By Anne Kopas