Adam Wiltgen, standing outside Lanesboro Arts St. Mane Theatre, was awarded a fellowship from the McKnight Foundation to attend the forum.
CHARLIE WARNER/NEWS LEADER Adam Wiltgen, standing outside Lanesboro Arts St. Mane Theatre, was awarded a fellowship from the McKnight Foundation to attend the forum.

“This was an incredible experience. I was able to meet young innovators from all over the world who shared their knowledge and experience in promoting and managing the arts in their communities. This was my first trip to Europe. Salzburg, Austria, is so beautiful. I felt very honored to have been selected to attend this forum.”

That’s what Harmony native Adam Wiltgen, who is the program director at Lanesboro Arts, said about the weeklong forum he recently attended in Austria.

The 2004 graduate of Fillmore Central was awarded a fellowship from the McKnight Foundation to attend the Salzburg Global Forum for Young Cultural Innovators. Wiltgen was just one of five Minnesota residents selected to attend the forum, which brought 60 young innovators from around the world together.

The Young Cultural Innovators (YCI) stayed in a 17th century palace, with the Austrian Alps as a backdrop. They discussed a broad spectrum of cultural expressions and artistic endeavors, including visual and performing arts, literature, cultural heritages, architecture, design, foods and fashion. The YCI came from Albania, Argentina, Austria, Bulgaria, Greece, Japan, Korea, Russia, South Africa, Vietnam, as well as from Baltimore, Detroit, Memphis, New Orleans and Minnesota.

The five YCI from Minnesota were awarded fellowships from the McKnight Foundation, which was open to employees, ages 25 to 35, who work at one of the 15 Artplace American grantees. The fellowships paid for room, board and travel expenses to and from the forum. Lanesboro Arts is a member of that grantee program.

The YCI Forum in Salzburg was a mix of theory and practice and focused on the knowledge and experience of recognized international experts and thought leaders. The program included interactive panels, small group discussions, and practical skills building sessions on communication, entrepreneurial thinking, organizational development, and leadership. 

Coming from a community of just 750 residents, Wiltgen was representing the smallest community, by far, of any of those attending the forum.

“Oh, they were amazed at what we (Lanesboro Arts and the Lanesboro community) were doing to promote the arts here,” he said. “When they heard that Lanesboro was just 750, they did have a hard time comprehending that we were able to provide for the residents of southeast Minnesota. Three of the YCI from Minnesota were from the Twin Cities area and the other was from Fergus Falls.”

“We were pretty much focused on our task at hand, staying in that palace. There was very little outside interference. The days were long, as we spent quite a bit of time following the organized daily sessions, continuing to share our experiences and day-to-day challenges,” Wiltgen continued. “It was seven hours ahead of Minnesota time, which made it a little challenging to communicate with family and friends back here in Minnesota.”

One of the discussions Wiltgen found intriguing was how young persons around the world seemed to leave their communities shortly after reaching adulthood, gaining knowledge and experience elsewhere and then returning to their hometowns.

“This is something that is so valuable for our small rural communities,” he observed. “Being able to offer the music, arts and other cultural events that can attract young persons to our area are very important. That is certainly one of the missions of Lanesboro Arts. Through an artist relocation initiative, we will be striving to bring more talented persons to our area to relocate here.”

Wiltgen said, during the next few months, he will be sharing the many stories, the knowledge and resources he brought back from the Salzburg Global Forum.

“I will be reflecting on what I learned, following up on the many connections I made with other YCIs and try to utilize this wonderful wealth of knowledge right here in southeast Minnesota. This forum has opened up many doors for me throughout the world. Kudos to the McKnight Foundation for providing me with this very valuable experience,” Wiltgen concluded.