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John Lamb, Published December 26 2013

Arts leaders discuss what they’d like to see in the New Year

FARGO - Christmas has passed, but arts groups are already looking forward to the New Year.

The arts scene in the Fargo-Moorhead area continues to grow, presenting new and different opportunities for events and education – including talk about Moorhead developing an arts district – all signs that things keep looking up for cultural outlets.

We asked local arts leaders what was on their wish list for the upcoming year.

Overwhelmingly, a performing arts center that could host different productions through the year was the most-wanted item.

“A real performing arts center would be my biggest wish,” says David Hamilton, executive director and performer with the Fargo-Moorhead Opera. “In city after city, the creation of a performing arts center has created a ripple effect both in terms of economic development and increased quality of life in the area around the center. And, I don’t think we can dismiss the civic pride aspect. Wouldn’t it be great to finally have a building that could be the symbol of the city architecturally?”

Hamilton says a community arts center would need a presence in both cities and echoes the decades-old proposal for an art bridge to cross the red River.

“I think the idea of an arts district in Moorhead would be great,” Hamilton says. “Moorhead needs to have something to bring the ‘cool’ factor that it’s never had.”

Russ Peterson, member of the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra and leader/saxophonist of Post-Traumatic Funk Syndrome, reiterates the need for a performing arts center, though he’s more specific about on which side of the river it should be located.

“Either in ‘no-man’s-land’ along First Avenue North, or on one of Moorhead’s awesome college campuses,” says Peterson, who, for the sake of full disclosure, is a faculty member in the music department at Moorhead’s Concordia College.

“What a great thing for the community and musicians to have a world-class concert hall for orchestras, operas, ballets and touring groups to perform in,” he says.

It’s not just music groups that want a performing arts site.

Matt Gasper, dance instructor and choreographer at the FM Ballet Company and Gasper School of Dance, wants a performing space big enough for an orchestra pit and to incorporate fly systems for raising and dropping sets. Such a system could also be used by a variety of theater groups, says Craig Ellingson of Music Theatre Fargo Moorhead and a faculty member of Minnesota State University’s Theatre Department.

Non-performing spaces made lists, too.

More spaces, faces

Hamilton says arts organizations without a permanent performance space struggle with storage for sets and costumes. He’d like to see different arts groups under one roof, sharing warehouse storage space.

“A lot of cities I’ve performed in have donated space to the arts for exactly that purpose. Most of them are warehouse-like spaces where everyone has their own area,” he says. “If the building had a multipurpose small performing/rehearsal space, that would be a bonus.”

Dayna Del Val, executive director of the Arts Partnership, would like to see a developer and architect work with artists on a space for small group or individual needs, like studio spaces, collective gallery space, rehearsal space, practice rooms, or a recording studio.

Del Val would also like to see a public arts fund aided by development of commercial spaces. The project would help, “develop a community-wide identity through the arts.”

Mark Weiler, founder of ecce art gallery, wants to see the development of an outdoor community gathering space, a site that would attract the public year-round. A sculpture park with fountains could turn into a skating rink for our long winters, but be used for concerts in the summer.

He suggests the site could include a conservatory for a year-round botanical garden, which “would be an awesome respite from the intense and lingering winter months.”

Even the warmer months could use a little more entertainment, says Colleen Sheehy, director and CEO of the Plains Art Museum.

A native of Minneapolis, she’d like to see the community take note of the Lake Harriet Bandstand programming and schedule nightly concerts at Bluestem, working around the Trollwood Performing Arts School’s schedule.

More outdoor film events would draw a crowd, as would an artist-designed parade that could thrill the old and young, she says.

On a bigger scale, she’d like to see a public arts plan for Fargo and Moorhead that could include utilizing the area near the Red River and a permanent, diverse farmers market.

Next to more spaces, arts leaders want to see more faces. The best way to support the arts is by attending events, they say. That doesn’t just include the general public, but artists supporting each other.

Gasper suggests “an industry night to share with our fellow artists, so we can all see each other’s shows.”

Similarly, he’d like to see less overlapping in scheduling, particularly in December for holiday events.

Groups know they have to compete with each other at times to draw crowds. Carrie Wintersteen, co-founder of Fargo-based troupe, Theatre B, suggests going to one different arts event every month.

In addition to being a ticket-buyer, be a ticket-taker if you really care about the arts, she says. Arts organizations run on a small budget and need help even staffing events. Volunteering helps out the arts group, but often gives the volunteer a different vantage point on the production and the guest’s experience.

The public can get more directly involved, she says, by volunteering for an organization’s board or becoming a member.

“Many arts organizations survive on memberships, and often the cost of the membership is up to the member. The more members, the more support. And with that support comes high-quality art that is accessible for all,” Wintersteen says.

“For the cost of a latte every month, you can make a significant impact on the cultural community,” she adds. “The arts no longer have patrons who support whole careers or companies. The support is much more democratic, so that means everyone has a role to play. The arts are not just for the kids, for the educated, for the rich. The arts are for everyone.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533