As 2018 inches closer in our calendars, December becomes a time of reflection on the past year. People often contemplate what they accomplished, what they want to improve and the common lessons they learned throughout the year.
Although many art organizations establish their complete season almost a year in advance, they use this time of reflection to see the success of certain events and what they can do to better bring arts into the community.
2017 marked a strong year for the arts as there were more productions, exhibits and attendees than ever before across southern Minnesota.
Strong Community Theater Presence
Southern Minnesota is slowly becoming a hub for community theater, as cities draw more actors, directors and writers for productions that tickle your funny bone or move you to tears.
Sharon Stark, executive secretary for Little Theatre of Owatonna, said their theater relies on local actors, mainly from the Owatonna area, to entertain the community and bring a variety of shows that some community members did not know they wanted.
“We always asked to bring more musicals, but musicals can’t be the only thing we bring to the table … we want to bring a variety of comedies, shows and other plays,” Stark said. “But since we have been around for 52 years, we’ve built a trust in the audience that we are going to always bring a quality, entertaining production.”
To close this year, The Little Theatre is bringing an original holiday-themed play, “Snapshots: Memories, Moments and Music,” that draws on traditions and celebrations based across the globe to connect to community members that might not have reached in the past.
“We have 22 different languages spoken in our school district, and that is a large untapped population that we aren’t actively reaching out through our typical productions. I think it will make a great opportunity to reach out to these potential audiences and represent a larger group of people in our community,” she said.
Similar sentiments were echoed from Faribault for an emphasis bringing local talent into theaters and bringing new shows alive. Paradise Center for the Arts Executive Director Kristen Twitchell said most of their popular events were plays or musicals held throughout the season, including their summer production of “Beauty and the Beast.”
“This was a phenomenal year for us at the Paradise and we saw a lot of success with our theater productions … Beauty and the Beast sold out several times because of the high quality of the cast and crew that really made that show come to life,” Twitchell said.
Twitchell mentioned a shared mentality across the theater communities as actors from Owatonna, Northfield and Faribault often participate in each community’s productions, which strengthens the theater scene as a whole.
Expanding opportunities for local artists
Another core feature of most arts and entertainment organizations is curating and coordinating exhibits that create intrigue and interest for local artists.
The Paradise Center worked to incorporate larger exhibits this year, highlighting local artists and the different mediums they work with. A strong example was the Woolen Mill Exhibit where artists from mostly Faribault or Rice County received a bag of wool from Faribault Woolen Mill and were asked to create an art piece incorporating the wool. The final result was a slew of sculptures, mittens, multi-dimensional paintings, quilts, etc.
“Whether it was multiple or a single artist exhibit, the galleries this year really show the high level of talent in Faribault and how creative artists really can be when they are let to their own imagination,” Twitchell said.
Twitchell hopes to see that spark of creativity continue as they host more student galleries of junior high and high school students at the center.
“They deserve to feel pride in themselves for putting forth the work to make something creative and beautiful,” she said.
Mary Lee, executive director for Red Wing Arts, agreed there was a higher quality group of artists that made the entertainment scene in Red Wing more apparent than ever before.
One of Red Wing’s most popular events is the Red Wing Arts Festival in October where local artists from various backgrounds gather with the city to celebrate the arts. Lee said this was the first year the city actively supported the event through sponsorship.
“This has always been an event that draws people into the city and having the city show such tremendous support really helped us create an event that was bigger and different from those in the past,” she said.
This festival had a large stage in the center and featured local organizations and musicians including a children’s rock band, a student string ensemble and several singer-songwriters from Minnesota.
“It was definitely a trial run for us, but it seemed to really draw people in and serve as a good opportunity to hear musicians from across the Red Wing, or Southern Minnesota, area,” Lee said.
As local organizations themselves, most art and entertainment groups want to highlight the potential in their own cities for great art, music and classic entertainment. Whether it is bringing a playwright’s work to life on stage or letting the local comedian pick up the mic, all organizations wanted to create opportunities for local artists.
Increasing community engagement
Highlighting local artists is important, but creating community engagement is an extremely key aspect in most successful art communities across the state. The more the community can interact and engage with the art themselves, the more interest they will have when it comes to future events and projects.
Though it is not easy to ask community members to step out of the role of passive audience member, it is a task that Red Wing is tackling through their upcoming art project titled, “Main Street.”
“Essentially, we are going to community members, everyone, not just artists, to take pictures of their main street. Whether it’s a building, a neighborhood or a landmark, we want to know what they connect to and how it shapes our city,” Lee said.
The project is directed especially toward Red Wing residents who have emotional connections to particular locations across town. Lee said it isn’t about attracting artists instead it is about attracting people who love Red Wing the most. The submitted photos will be included in a projection show that highlights common buildings and locations from across town and becomes a spectacle the entire city can enjoy.
“We recognize the volunteers and people who support us are the ones who make all these projects possible, and we’re a growing more and more because of them,” she said.
Since most entertainment groups in Southern Minnesota are nonprofits or smaller local organizations, they depend on community support through volunteers and active participants to establish their programming. Stark said the Little Theatre in Owatonna is completely dependent on volunteers who simply love the arts.
“For most of us, it’s about being close to the arts community and helping wherever we can,” Stark said.
The volunteers and community members will have a fair amount to look forward to in the upcoming year as the arts and entertainment groups bring innovative and quality events to Southern Minnesota.
By Kelsey O’Hara