Who would have dreamed?

Published 3:45 pm Saturday, June 20, 2009

Who would have dreamed, in 1959 when Lloyd Herfindahl and his painting class talked about forming an art center, that today we would have an enthusiastic and energetic group of people attending planning retreats, designing a float for the July 3 parade. organizing a quilt show, saving items to sell at the Unique Junque fundraiser, promoting the new logo and mission statement, hanging yet another show of beautiful are, selling art supplies, planning a tour of area churches, teaching classes, displaying their work in area restaurants, enjoying the afterglow of a successful Silver Tea, and making plans for the Christmas season all in this, their 50th golden year?

Who would have dreamed, in 1959 when that little group talked about the future of the arts in the Albert Lea area, that today we would have a home, a small staff, volunteers, and hundreds of members who would be willing to put hours and talents and money into the quality of the arts in this community?

Who would have dreamed that on the 25th anniversary of the founding of the art center, Lloyd Herfindahl would be honored by the city of Albert Lea with the presentation of the key to the city?

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Who would have dreamed?

Perusing the scrapbooks, kept faithfully over the years by Art Center historians, one reads of pottery and painting classes, special exhibits and dinners honoring area artists at local hotels, art shows in city parks, artists from China sponsored by the city of Albert Lea — the Civic Theatre (now the Marion Ross Performing Arts Center) — and the Art Center, winter and summer art shows, art scholarships, workshops, retreats, classes for children and adults, photography shows, participation in any number of community events, art exhibits in area restaurants, and the hospital gallery, costume parties, participation by local dance and Taekwando groups, fundraisers selling food and junque, special exhibits of children’s art and that of seniors, pumpkins painted for schools and nursing homes, music of all kinds at many events, slide shows, Christmas tree displays, and even an ice sculpture demonstration.

An art center is a vital and necessary part of the cultural aspects of a community. It provides the gathering place for creative thinkers and doers. It provides a comfortable setting for sharing ideas and sharing ones own work whether professional or amateur. It is a place for learning, for teaching, and for appreciating the work of others. For those who say, “I am not an artist. I cannot draw a straight line,” it is the place to learn that we are all artists, and that no one can draw a straight line without the aid of a ruler.

The Art Center is the place for people to come together to share ideas, to agree, to disagree, or agree to disagree. I’ll never forget the board meeting, more than twenty years ago, when we were discussing the design of the Storrer Gallery (then our only place in the building).

The conversation went something like this, “The south wall should be covered to provide one long space for hanging several small pieces of art or three really large pieces.”

“No, the wall should remain as is with the brick supports showing to make the space more visually interesting. You can hang paintings in between the supporting posts.”

“I really believe the wall would be more useful if we build the framework, cover it with plasterboard, and make it straight.”

Would you believe, we argued for an hour. All of the board members gradually sat back and let the “discussion” fire back and forth between two very stubborn and opinionated members. As visitors today can see, the wall is straight.

Today we laugh at the hot tempers that flared at that meeting, but that conversation tells me that people care. Artists, as individuals, care deeply about the value of art in their lives and in the lives of all of us — how is it made and how it is displayed.

That’s what keeps he Art Center going. We are a young 50 years old. And in the next 50 years, there will be hundreds more programs, classes, exhibits, and agreements and disagreements. What a wonderful resource for our community.

“Congratulations to the Albert Lea Art Center for nurturing the arts in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa for 50 years. May you keep on dreaming, and may your future be exciting and inspirational to all.”

Bev Jackson Cotter is a member of the Albert Lea Art Center, where the Bonnie Broitzman, Steve Tubbs, Chris Charlson and Dustin DeBoer shows will continue through the month of June.