Chances are, Cottage Grove is not the first place that comes to mind when one thinks of artistic vibrancy.
But with the City Council's vote last month to create an arts commission, officials are hoping to change the city's image.
"There's a lot people out there who have passions for arts, in one form or another, and there's the suggestion that the city could help make those connections," said Ryan Schroeder, the city's administrator.
After studying what cities like Richfield and Edina are doing to spur cultural activity, Cottage Grove decided it needed a commission of its own, whose goal would be the "coordination of the arts community," he said.
Some 30 people crowded into a conference room at City Hall recently to share ideas on ways the proposed panel could go about changing perceptions of the city. Among the suggestions were building a new band shell and creating a guide to the city's cultural going-ons.
Council Member Justin Olsen, who broached the idea of forming an arts commission at a July council meeting, said he came away from the Nov. 6 meeting feeling optimistic.
"All of these people show their work, but they don't show them in Cottage Grove. They show them in Minneapolis, and they show them in places where they feel as though they have fertile ground," Olsen said. "You can see that when you create that fertile ground and you provide a space and you provide a sense of value to the work, the art scene flourishes."
Feedback will be sought before further council action. Olsen said it's too early to know where funding will come from.
In creating an arts panel, Cottage Grove is following the lead of several suburbs.
Edina, for instance, has an independent commission with 11 members — two of them students — which "provides recommendations to the City Council concerning collaboration, communication, facilities, activities and programs in the art and cultural activities," according to the organization's website.
Today, there are only a handful of loose-knit arts organizations in Cottage Grove, including Art Beat and Locally Grown Theatre, a community theater shuttling among local schools and churches.
Olsen suggested that the city could attract more business by creating a space for artists of all stripes to display their work.
"You're going to draw people to your community who do have a passion for the arts," he said, "and just like anything else they're going to spend time and money in those communities."
Another idea floated at the meeting was to build a bandstand near City Hall — or possibly a natural amphitheater — that could host live music and theater performances to enliven long summer nights.