Art is: Reflecting on Art Center’s history

Published 9:00 am Saturday, June 16, 2018

Art is by Bev Jackson Cotter

Bev Jackson Cotter is a member of the Albert Lea Art Center, where the photography of Tim Rietz of Austin will be on display July 1 through Aug. 11.

Who or what is the Albert Lea Art Center? In the four minutes that it takes you to read this column, I am going to give you a brief, 59-year history.

Bev Jackson Cotter

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The members and friends of ALAC have been creating art, educating, promoting and showcasing it ever since 1959 when the students in a painting class by local artist, Lloyd Herfindahl decided that Albert Lea needed a permanent arts organization. Lloyd, who had received his education at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and had studied in Paris, France, had made art his career. He was easy to spot around the community wearing his white suit and red necktie, which often had a gravy or soup stain on it. You can still find his paintings and murals in a variety of locations around Albert Lea. Before his passing, he had gained a credible reputation in other parts of the U.S. and in Norway.

In 1959, the Albert Lea Art Center became a non-profit organization and its members enthusiastically sponsored exhibits at area banks, department stores, churches and even the Spanish Dining Room of the Hotel Albert — the place to stay when you were visiting Albert Lea and definitely the classy place to dine on Sundays and special occasions.

The Art Center also sponsored Art in the Park, a special highlight every year. It was held in Central Park in July and included displays by artists from a 100-mile radius of the city and entertainment by area musicians and dance groups. One year, when rain threatened to cancel the event, a nearby church offered its basement to the organization, but the story goes that when the pastor noticed a painting of a nude in one of the displays, he insisted on its removal.

For many years, no matter what the weather, a winter Art Festival was held in the Skyline Mall, and here again, area artists and musicians had the opportunity to display their talents and sell their work. Newspaper photos show the grinning faces of the artists whose work was given special recognition.

Art Center members struggled to find a home. Temporary lodging was offered in one of the Victorian homes near Fountain Lake where the hospital now stands, and another location was found in an abandoned laundry building in northwest Albert Lea. In 1975 the Art Center purchased a small church building on West Main Street, then moved to South Broadway in 1986 and to West Clark in 2014. The dream is that next year ALAC will celebrate its 60th anniversary in a new, permanent home in the heart of downtown Albert Lea.

Throughout all of these years, with the many changes that have taken place, the organization has continued to stay true to its mission, “Create, educate, promote and showcase the arts.”

Events have varied and participants and board members have changed, but offerings continue — annual all member shows, area school art shows, classes for adults and children, lectures, open houses, participation in community events, involvement with area organizations, exhibitions by Minnesota artists, support of area musicians and dancers, unique art sales, unusual fund raisers, sales of art supplies and works by local artists, mall displays, art and garden tours, Albert Lea High School scholarships, community Christmas tree festivals, fashion shows, luncheons ­— the list is unending.

One of the most exciting recent ventures was the collaboration with the local detention center where the art and writings of the staff and inmates who were held because of law infractions or immigration issues. The paintings and stories were gut-wrenchingly honest. Not only were these pieces inspiring, but they showed us just how much talent there is in our community even behind bars.

All of these offerings are made possible through the talent, determination, hard work and generosity of the Art Center members and friends, community organizations and businesses, and granting agencies.

The Albert Lea Art Center is here to remind you that art is as incredible as an oil painting, as simple as a child’s drawing, or as cutesy as the design on your jeans’ pocket. Art is a part of your life — your past, your present and your future.