Nearly five years ago, a group of eclectic budding artists and musicians gathered in Winona with a simple goal: to create.
Largely comprised of Winona State University students, they were poets, hip hop artists, filmmakers, writers, and local musicians, who met to create and work on their passion projects together. Today, that group is a leader in the Winona arts scene — promoting, hosting, and creating with artists across multiple platforms in southeastern Minnesota.
Treedome is a collaborative arts organization, focused on fostering spaces, opportunities, and inspiration for the thriving arts scene in southeastern Minnesota, said co-founder, president, and creative director Nathaniel Nelson.
The best way to describe the group, Nelson explained, is that it acts like a hired gun record label. They step in when artists need support, a space to do their work, and locations to play and display their creations, but the group steps back to let the artist reap the benefits of the sale and own their creations.
“The biggest thing is southeastern Minnesota doesn’t have the same kind of support that Minneapolis and St. Paul have,” Nelson said. “There is this massive arts scene down here, but it is scattered. It doesn’t have institutional support. You have bubbles around different styles and organizations.”
Growing where they were planted
Back in September 2016, when the group of artists and musicians decided to turn their meet-ups into a tangible group, Nelson said they had no clue where it was headed.
“[It was] exciting, but also terrifying,” Nelson said. “We don’t still entirely know everything that we need to know about running an organization. Back then we knew nothing about running an organization, but it was something we decided to do on whim.”
Throughout its short tenure, Treedome has tried on many hats before landing on its collaboration and inspiration niche.
“We didn’t expect to be a do-it-yourself organization,” Nelson said. “Our first plan was to be a video production company, which lasted about a week. Then we wanted to be a record label, and that lasted not much longer than a week.”
With each project and identity Treedome took on, Nelson said, the more it noticed a need for representation and support of the underground yet thriving arts scene in Winona.
Today, Treedome has grown from booking one event a month to booking 10 gigs at five different locations across southern Minnesota and into surrounding states each month. Its growth is in no small part thanks to the support of various donors and grant awards they have been given.
Back in its infancy stages, Treedome was awarded $5,000 from the Winona State University WARRIORS Innovate Challenge and has since been awarded a grant from the Winona Main Street Program. This past April Treedome was even named one of four organizations in Minnesota and one of 130 groups across the nation to receive funding from the Meow Wolf DIY Fund.
The group has boasted a physical studio on Third Street in downtown Winona since April 2018 and has become a regular touchpoint and organizer for some of Winona’s biggest events, including the inception of its own Shut Down Third Street, created with funds from Winona’s Main Street.
‘A party in the streets’
Maggie Panetta, the organization’s art director, was the main organizer of Treedome’s inaugural Shut Down Third Street this past fall.
“The original Shut Down Third Street was born out of an interest for Treedome to create an all-encompassing event in music and art,” Panetta said.
Hosted this fall after about three months of preparation, according to Nelson, Treedome invited citizens from Winona and the surrounding communities to gather on the city’s Third Street, peruse local shops, and engage in local music by listening, dancing, and supporting bands and musicians.
Panetta has continued taking the lead on the large-scale planning of the second annual event, which is set for late September 2019. After hosting nearly 3,000 visitors in 2018, the scale of the event is still primed for growth, Panetta said.
“We’re really excited this year to boast some higher up bands, as well as continuing the theme, as well as spotlighting local musicians,” Panetta said. “We’ll have an increase in a number of bands and locations, including Island City Brewing.”
The Winona brewery has become a popular destination in the river city, but its addition plays a special role, Panetta said. The event is a family-friendly, dry event along Third Street, but by adding Island City to its docket, Panetta said the event provides patrons with more options to celebrate local art by supporting more local establishments.
Regardless of the additions, Panetta and Nelson agree that the focus will remain the same.
“We wanted to make a party in the streets,” Nelson said. “[It] goes back to this same idea. How do we make music and art a collaborative community piece? How do we rally the community around art and now just make it a consumable item?”
Sticking around Winona
The transformation of the now-college graduates that first began this organization with the mission of working on their own creations to then become an integral part of the Winona culture within a matter of years isn’t lost on Nelson.
“Being that we were all college students and not being part of Winona, there is a barrier between college students and the town,” Nelson said. “When we started, we had the people we knew and artists in, the musicians within the college sphere… We expanded, and it feels like we’re part of the wider part of Winona.”
Treedome has had to become civically engaged while planning events like Shut Down Third Street, which included meeting with the city council and presenting its ideas and plans to a wider circle than just their arts community. City of Winona Arts and Culture Coordinator Lee Gundersheimer has firsthand experience with Treedome’s local influence.
“They’re hungry and awesome enough to be working with the whole region,” Gundersheimer said.
Treedome, Gundersheimer added, is helping the city plan more installments of its floating concerts on the Winona lakes and the city’s Live at the Levee. The city’s goal in working with Treedome, Gundersheimer said, is to give them the space to flourish, which will ultimately help their arts and culture scene continue to blossom.
Winona’s art scene has always been lively, Gundersheimer added, but the addition of Treedome gives it the infrastructure it craved.
Despite finding a path, Nelson said the group is still open to whatever avenues come up. Panetta added that the group continues to be inspired and supportive of local events and music festivals, such as Winona-born Mid West Music Fest.
Yet despite the success, Treedome isn’t looking to leave the region that supported its first steps and eventual expansion.
“I feel that this region is more ripe for growth,” Nelson said, adding that larger communities, such as the Twin Cities, already have similar, urban-focused support systems.
“You don’t see that as much here in southeastern Minnesota,” Nelson continued, “and that’s not because there’s less quality bands, but they just don’t have that huge support and rallying behind it. That’s why we stuck around.”
Learn more about Treedome and its events by visiting their website at www.treedomemn.com or by liking them on Facebook.
By Samantha Stetzer