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Money Well Spent


Fri, Mar 23rd, 2001
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Monday, March 19, 2001

I sat in a seat in the middle of the theatre and looked upward.

“The ceiling is still up there after all these years,” I thought. Masonite panels tacked up with nails and painted green. Usually the lights are low in the St. Mane Theatre and you don’t notice these details.

I remember Marlyn Cox dancing around on the scaffolding like Michealangelo at the Cistine Chapel repairing the damaged tiles on the ceiling.

I was often below, trying to prevent Marlyn from killing himself, either holding the scaffolding or throwing things up to him. I recall doing a lot of painting and, even today, believe that some of the crooked lines on the wall somehow belong to me.

Volunteers restored the St. Mane Theatre in Lanesboro nearly twenty years ago. And the townsfolk were cast in the first plays. The initial performance after the theater was restored was a joyous event.

The fledgling Lanesboro Art Council bought the St. Mane Theater for $5,000 in the early 1980’s and proceeded to fix it up as a community theatre. They still own it today, leasing it out to the Commonweal Theatre Company.

There was a lot of talk about “how are we going to pay for it” at the time. That was why Art in the Park was so important and became the primary fundraising activity for the organization.

My “nostalgic look back through time” was broken by the sound of Frank Wright, a board member of the Lanesboro Arts Council, talking about this year’s Art in the Park.

“As long as they can say that they have made it, and can call it their own piece of work, then they can participate in this year’s Art in the Park,” Wright said, explaining the “inclusive” jurying process.

It wasn’t that long ago, 1999 to be exact, that the Journal was riddled with letters to the editor denouncing efforts to turn Art in the Park into a select event for “high art”. Gone were the arts and crafters, and with it the festival atmosphere that made Art in the Park one of the more unique events in the area.

Wright was speaking at the Lanesboro Art Council’s annual meeting held on March 10 at the St. Mane Theatre. He was soon joined by co-chair of this year’s Art in the Park, Charlotte Johnson, as the two of them rattled off the names of the various committee members working on this June’s festival. This will be the 21st year for Art in the Park.

I paid my five buck membership fee and attended the Art Council’s annual meeting because I wanted to renew my support for the council’s role as Lanesboro’s community art organization.

A few years ago, on the heels of the Art in the Park debacle, an email from an Art Council board member suggested that “apathy for the organization was so great” that perhaps it would be best to give the St. Mane Theatre to another non-profit arts organization.

A new board came in and has been working hard to restore the council to a place of prominence in Lanesboro’s art community once again.

Last year, they brought Art in the Park back by re-making it into a community event. They joined hands with the University of Minnesota to stage Opera on the Farm. And they sponsored a variety of events including the Stringwood Youth Camp for String Instruments at Eagle Bluff, as well as an evening with Beethoven. In January they held an old fashioned variety show and this April will host Scottish traditional music makers Phil Cunningham and Aly Bain.

If that isn’t enough, the council set about renewing their lease with Commonweal (six years if a Regional Art Center is built; 10 years if not) and are in the process of developing a capital plan to maintain the theater building for years to come. Members of the Art Council are also playing an active role in the commission that is guiding the creation of the proposed Regional Art Center.

The groundwork for the art scene in Lanesboro today can be traced back to 1980 when a handful of volunteers formed the Lanesboro Art Council. The recent successes of Commonweal Theatre and Cornucopia Art Center, and the naming of Lanesboro as one of the “100 best small art towns in America”, can be credited in part to the work the Art Council has done over the last 20 years.

As Lanesboro moves to the next level as an arts community, it will need a strong, viable and active Lanesboro Art Council helping to lead the way.

I consider my five bucks money well spent.

By John Torgrimson

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