College Towns Generate Excitement for the Arts

By James Riemermann

Marine Art MuseumIt’s no surprise that Minnesota’s busiest arts scene is in Minneapolis, our largest city. But in smaller college towns throughout the state, students and faculty generate enough excitement for the arts to support destination-worthy galleries, museums, theater and more. Many also have coffeehouses and nightclubs near the campus offering music with low or even no cover charges.

Some performance and exhibit spaces are right on campus. In Duluth, the University of Minnesota Duluth's Department of Theatre is putting on “Spoon River,” portraying small-town America through songs and stories based on the poems of Edgar Lee Masters’ “Spoon River Anthology,” and a dance performance by student choreographers.

The campus is also home to the Tweed Art Museum, with a permanent exhibition of more than 9,000 pieces from a wide range of cultures and eras, including African masks, etchings by Picasso, a lithograph by Thomas Hart Benton, photography by Dorothea Lange, and in front of the museum, Jacques Lipchitz’s cast bronze statue “Sieur du Luth.” Through Sept. 20, the museum will feature 40 years of work from the Chinese-born Minnesotan watercolor artist and teacher Cheng-Khee Chee.

"Drop of Life" by Naoko Matsubara / Rourke Gallery, Moorhead

The Duluth Art Institute focuses on contemporary regional artists as well as traveling shows. Many shows feature receptions and talks with the artists on-site, and the center offers hands-on classes and workshops.

Duluth is also home to Waters of Superior, co-owned by nature photographer Craig Blacklock, whose stunning images of Lake Superior and other mostly northern landscapes have graced magazines, books and museum walls for more for more than 30 years. In addition to many large-formats prints of Blacklock’s work, the gallery features paintings, sculptures and prints inspired by the North Shore of Lake Superior.

On the banks of the Mississippi River, Winona is home to the Minnesota Marine Art Museum, featuring a remarkable range of marine-themed masterpieces for a town of just over 25,000. The permanent collection includes great works by Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh and Matisse, as well as Hudson River School painters Thomas Cole, Albert Bierstadt and William Bradford. Special exhibits this fall include underwater photos from National Geographic by Brian Skerry, and Mississippi River scenes by Illinois artist James Butler.

The theater and music programs at Winona State University offer public performances, and the art department has two galleries: The Paul Watkins Gallery featuring regional and national artists, and the Weber Gallery featuring student work. The Winona Arts Center exhibits primarily local and regional artists as well as providing classes and workshops.

On the shores of Lake Bemidji, Bemidji’s Watermark Art Center focuses on local and regional artists, with group and member shows in September and October, and an exhibit from a juried ceramics competition, titled “It’s Only Clay,” beginning Nov. 6.

Gallery North is an non-profit artists’ cooperative, featuring paintings, sculpture, jewelry, fiber arts, porcelain, rosemaling and more on display and for sale. On the first Friday of every month, visitors are welcome to observe and talk to a featured artist at work.

Bemidji-area artisansThe First City of Arts Studio Cruise is a self-guided tour of the studios of Bemidji-area artists. From Oct. 16-18, the public is invited to visit participating artists in their creative spaces.

A beautiful and historic former post office in Moorhead houses both the Rourke Art Museum and the Plains Art Museum, the latter with a permanent collection of approximately 3,000 works including national and regional contemporary art, traditional American Indian art, and traditional folk art. Exhibits this fall will be the Plains School of Abstract Painting through Oct. 3, as well as “Creative Actions: Selections from the Permanent Collection” and other ongoing exhibits.

The Rourke has exhibited many of the region’s most celebrated artists, as well as works from ancient and global cultures. Special exhibits this fall will include “Transformations: The Art of the Mask,” and a sculpture exhibit featuring Chris Walla and Naomi Schliesman.

A city of 20,000 with two private liberal arts colleges, Northfield is home to the Northfield Arts Guild, which hosts a theater, four art galleries, and the Riverfront Fine Arts Festival on Sept. 12-13, which coincide with the last two days of Defeat of Jesse James Days. The Guild’s theater is performing “A Streetcar Named Desire” Oct. 2-11.

For more information, search for statewide exhibit and performance spaces, or arts and theater events.