Located at 210 N. Minnesota Street in the heart of downtown, The Grand Center for Arts and Culture (GCAC) in New Ulm is living up to its mission of helping to support artists by offering the programming and tools necessary to explore, develop and nurture their gifts.
Executive Director Anne Makepeace, of St. Peter, has been a pivotal part of ushering The Grand to the next level since her family became owners of the three-story historical brick building in 2001. Her great-great-great-grandfather once operated the Grand Hotel, but it wasn’t until 1993 that Makepeace first set her sights on the infrastructure.
“I was asked what I wanted to do in the future and I said that I wanted to buy the building and renovate it,” Makepeace recalled. “I wanted to find a public purpose for it. I knew a lot of artists and musicians in the area and the art and music thing just kept coming back to us. It made sense, because New Ulm didn’t have anything like it.”
With help from family members, Makepeace purchased what is now the The Grand, and the first thing she did was apply for nonprofit status. She then held public meetings and assembled volunteers to serve on the board.
“We held a public meeting in the fall of 2009 and shared what we might want to do with it and all kinds of people said ‘Yes,’” she said.
The 11 people that serve on the GCAC Board meet monthly with Makepeace and help with programming, finances and fundraising efforts. Megan Rolloff has been on the board since its inauguration in 2009.
“I knew that if I wanted to be involved in the arts within the area, I would have to put the work in first,” Rolloff said. “Anne had a lot of great things already figured out, and it just seemed like a great organization to help start.”
Shortly after that first meeting, Makepeace and her husband renovated the first floor and opened The Kabaret in 2010, which is home to live music on Fridays and Saturdays. In 2017, the other half of the first floor re-opened as a gift shop.
“We started booking out with music at the Kabaret and got things going through fundraising and renovation,” Makepeace said. “We weren’t using the full building until four years ago.”
What some may not know is that The Grand has more to offer than what’s at the ground floor.
The second and third floors house a large art gallery hosting 10 shows a year, 10 artist studios available for rent, and a music studio. The Grand uses ‘art’ as a broad term and spaces can be used for writing, graphic design, healing and the more traditional art forms. In addition, as an arts and cultural organization, The Grand has participated in history theatre and has hosted cultural events on site.
“We’re a full-fledged art center,” Makepeace said proudly. “We are trying to cover everything from lessons and studio space to art education, photography, dance and live entertainment.”
Though it’s taken time to introduce the community to what they have to offer, Makepeace said she feels like she’s been making headway over the past few years.
“When the Kabaret first opened, a lot of people came to us out of curiosity and now I think they understand that they can find not only incredible music from all over the state and region here, but art, dance and photography classes,” she said. “We have artists that show their work in our gallery that are popular all over the country. New Ulm has a lot of talented people that we’re trying to help find a home for, so they can meet up and share their creativity.”
Wanting to broaden The Grand’s reach even more, Makepeace has been busy brainstorming a use for the 3,000-square-foot basement. It’s her goal to take the nonprofit to the next level and train someone to eventually take her place as executive director. Her early thought is to open the large area up for a maker space, where artists would pay a set fee each month and have access to all the materials and equipment that they may need for their craft.
“What we really want to do is use more of that space for art related activities,” she said. “That’s the next level … getting more people to use the space.”
Optimistic for the future of The Grand, Rolloff said she has seen the visual arts grow in New Ulm, especially when it comes to gallery showings.
“It’s hard to get off the ground, but we just had an artist meet-up and it was great to see so many people show up that were excited about continuing to build a community of artists in the area,” she said. “A few years ago that may not have been the case, but Anne has done a good job at getting our name out there.”
Like many arts nonprofits, The Grand relies heavily on volunteers, donations, fundraisers, rented studio space and grants to remain successful. A wall in the back has a list of individuals who have pledged $500 or more, and businesses can sponsor a night of music for the same cost. Individuals can also become members of The Grand for a yearly cost beginning at $25, which includes discounted tickets to shows and the gift shop.
“The biggest thing people should know is that we are an organization that can’t run by itself,” Rolloff said. “We need artists and for people to come out and see what we have to offer. If it’s just a few people on the board running it, there’s no point. It needs to be adopted by the community and the surrounding communities as a group effort to make it work.”
For more information visit thegrandnewulm.com.
By Anna Vangsness