Dancers from St. Paul Ballet joined for a performance of Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring" last weekend at the Lakes Area Music Festival. Read our review here. (Photo by David Boran)

When Nisswa, Minn., native Scott Lykins started the Lakes Area Music Festival in Brainerd, he was still a student — “creating a performing opportunity for myself,” as he puts it.

Ten years later, the festival has expanded to three weeks of concerts, educational events and an opera, serving combined audiences of over 14,000 people in the area. It continues this week with a production of Mozart’s comic opera "The Magic Flute." (7 p.m. Sat., 2 p.m. Sun., Tornstrom Auditorium, Brainerd; free,

Time for Lykins to rest a little on his laurels, possibly? Not a bit of it. A cellist by trade, Lykins has bold plans for the festival’s second decade, and an exciting announcement to make.

“This past April the Brainerd Public School District presented the voters with a three-part referendum, on which the third question added funding for a community performing arts center,” he says.

The referendum passed, paving the way for Brainerd to benefit from a major cultural uplift, and for the Lakes Area Music Festival to get a permanent new home for its ever-expanding programs.

A new, purpose-built arts center would bring vital enhancements that the festival’s current home —  the Tornstrom Auditorium at the old Washington High School building in Brainerd —  is unable to offer.

An orchestra pit, more backstage space and better artist facilities would, Lykins says, “open up opportunities for our larger ensembles, opera and ballet in particular, and enable the community to have year-round performing arts opportunities.”

Lykins has other plans too. The 2019 season will see the introduction of a summer-long string quartet fellowship, “to provide a place for an emerging chamber ensemble to hold a rehearsal retreat, and perform for a variety of audiences throughout the state.”

Underlying all the innovation is Lykins’determination that the Lakes Area Music Festival should be a major driver of economic revival in the Brainerd area.

“Downtown Brainerd, where we perform, is actually the poorest downtown community in the state,” he says. “But in recent years there have been many people and organizations working to transform that image.

“At the festival, we are aiming to contribute to this changing cultural landscape by providing access to world-class performing arts free of charge. Our hope is that in the near future the Brainerd lakes area will not only be known as a hot spot for lakeside tourism, but also as a center for arts tourism.”

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