Arts permeate the life and vivaciousness of the city of Lanesboro, whether it is incorporating art from residents of the community or preserving its history that created the town.
The Lanesboro Arts Center and the Commonweal Theatre both play a gigantic part in the heartbeat of the town. Both organizations have been supported financially by another Minnesota-based organization that is dedicated to enriching people’s lives through the arts. This organization is the McKnight Foundation, based in the Twin Cities.
The McKnight Foundation “assists nonprofit organizations and public agencies to improve the quality of life for all people, particularly those in need” according to their website. The organization issues grants and collaborates with communities and encourages strategic policy reform within those communities “to build up and maintain vibrant communities.”
“The McKnight Foundation has a vibrant arts program that gives capital support to Minnesota communities,” stated Courtney Bergey, program associate at the Lanesboro Arts Center.
For many years, Lanesboro Arts Center and Commonweal Theatre have received grants from this foundation to help them produce plays, exhibit art and entertain the community.
“Lanesboro is such a model for the arts and development. We developed a relationship with the McKnight Foundation over decades of support,” added Bergey.
Because of this relationship, board members of the McKnight Foundation graced the streets of Lanesboro with their working retreat last week, which is rather unusual.
“They had a board retreat here and came to look at the Arts Campus and the Commonweal,” Bergey said. “It was a working trip to be immersed in two programs they have funded.”
Vicki Benson, program manager of the McKnight Foundation, added, “McKnight has been a long-time supporter of the Lanesboro Arts Center and the Commonweal. It was a great opportunity for the board and staff to see what they have heard and read about for years.”
Several things inspired this visit and were initiated in the fall of last year. Lanesboro Arts Center was invited to the National Conference for Arts and Culture in Denver. This was a gathering of innovative organizations around the country getting together.
“We presented about the Lanesboro Arts Campus then and members of the McKnight Foundation were present. They thought it was a good community and wanted to show the whole board,” Bergey noted. “It happened to work out and we got to show the board in depth what Lanesboro is doing.”
On Friday morning, Aug. 15, the board met with the Lanesboro Arts Center personnel to learn more about the Lanesboro Arts Campus the foundation is helping support.
“Lanesboro showcases how a community can be really successful and vibrant. The staff got to talk a lot about the Arts Campus project and we wanted the board to see Lanesboro,” Bergey said.
Since it was a retreat, the McKnight board was able to witness Lanesboro during its tourism season, and in beautiful weather.
“We had a great impression of Lanesboro,” said Benson. “Embedding arts into Lanesboro is incredibly innovative. We have been wanting to see Lanesboro for a while.”
But the members of the board did not come simply for work. They also brought their families on the retreat, taking a little rest and relaxation period in a town they have long supported.
They visited the Commonweal for one of its productions on Thursday night, Aug. 14, seeing how the grants have been put into use at the theatre. Board members and their families listened to the presentation of the Lanesboro Arts Campus.
“The McKnight Foundation is partnering with ArtPlace (America). The Lanesboro Arts Center got an ArtPlace’s grant, so we got to see the results of their investment as well as ours,” Benson added.
But a nice surprise awaited the McKnight Foundation board members as the meeting concluded and they stepped outside.
“About 250 Bicycling Around Minnesota (BAM) riders were in Lanesboro when they went out. They loved to see all the bikers there having a good time on the streets of Lanesboro. It showed the vibrancy of the city,” Bergey commented.
“We had a great time and I can’t imagine a more innovative town,” Benson declared.