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Vicki Chepulis, Wadena, Minn. , Published June 16 2012

1st steps for TPAS, Bluestem

What is now Bluestem Center for the Arts was conceived as a new, stable home in which Trollwood Performing Arts School would become a world-class arts center.

I had the privilege of co-founding and serving as executive director of Trollwood Performing Arts School, watching it grow for 32 years. As a program of Fargo schools, offered in collaboration with the Fargo Park Board, the first 15 years solidified TPAS as a staple on the slate of summer entertainment and arts education options. However, summer floods in 1993 began an ongoing threat to our north Fargo home.

For the next 10 years, we (the Trollwood team – Trollwood staff, Fargo School Board reps, community supporters and eventually FutureBuilders, our nonprofit fundraising arm) searched for solutions, from adapting Trollwood Park to exploring several sites in Fargo and Cass County. Eventually we accepted an invitation to look at Moorhead, resulting in an offer to move to south Moorhead and $5.5 million support from the Minnesota Legislature, contingent upon completing the project by the end of 2008.

Hundreds of community members were invited to participate in creating a vision of how TPAS could best serve the public through growth in this new location. A master plan was designed, and fundraising began. As the deadline approached, the Fargo School Board provided loans so the construction project could be completed and the legislative dollars secured.

Unfortunately, a new organizational structure was established that immediately generated difficulties, resulting in ungainly management, unsuccessful fundraising, unhealthy work environment and stifled efforts to provide innovative and community-responsive programming.

I believe recent Fargo School Board decisions pave the way for promising renewal. By assuming the lease and developing a workable organizational structure, the school board will set the stage for the original vision to be realized and surpassed.

The next step is the creation of a managing authority, composed of stakeholders and arts advocates, including people who have worked tirelessly to make this vision a reality.

Among the first responsibilities of the managing authority will be hiring a director/CEO – a single leader, with visionary experience in providing artistry and innovatively serving the community, while operating an efficient and fiscally responsible organization. All other functions should be conducted by staff and volunteers who report to this dynamic leader or her/his department heads, carrying forth the plan articulated by the managing authority. Having a capable, visionary leader at the helm is critical to creating a world-class arts center.

As the community experiences the benefits of this new regional resource through concerts, festivals, and performances featuring national and local talent, quality education programs for all ages, and through use of the site’s beautiful facilities, and forthcoming wooded trails, beautiful gardens, family picnic and outdoor play centers; history shows that they in turn will seek out ways to support its viability for the future, through donations of money and their volunteer time.

There’s a lot of work ahead, but the Fargo School Board has taken an important first step, and now has the opportunity to make choices that will ensure that this world class arts center serves the public for future decades, and significantly adds to Fargo-Moorhead’s growing reputation for exceptional arts and education programs.


Chepulis is co-founder and former executive director of Trollwood Performing Arts School.