When Kay Brown moved from Northfield to Eagan more than 10 years ago, she found a “huge hole” in the life of the community.
What was missing was art.
As the executive director of the Northfield Arts Guild, Brown found the lack of art in Eagan to be odd. “I thought for a town of 60,000 people, that was quite surprising,” she said.
Brown went on to become one of the founding members of the Eagan Art House — which is literally a house for art classes and workshops — and is now managing director of the Eagan Theatre Company.
Eagan is working to grow art in the community, and advocates say residents are excited about the possibilities. The city is working with the art house, Caponi Art Park and the Dakota Center for the Arts, better known as the Eagan Art Festival board, to meet the public’s demand for the arts. A citywide study about the role of public art is set to start this year, thanks to a donation that allows the hiring of a consultant. “We want to look at the ways [public art] can support community engagement and support our community identity,” said Eagan Parks and Recreation Director Juli Johnson.
One option the festival board proposed to the city is to levy a fee on new developments for public art. “It’s just one of many options to explore,” Johnson said, emphasizing that it’s only an idea and no decisions have been made. “It’s one of the things we’ll look at as part of the overall art study coming up.”
A citywide two-year survey completed last fall demonstrated strong community support for art — more than 80 percent of those surveyed said they’d like to see more public art. “Our community is very excited and enthused about the arts,” said Julie Andersen, recreation supervisor at the Eagan Art House. “I think people are beginning to realize that arts are an important part of the quality of life in the suburbs.”
Momentum increased recently when Eagan Art House leaders learned the organization received a $5,000 grant from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council to make art more affordable and accessible. The Eagan Art House is an organization managed by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, where children, teens and adults take art classes. Art house staff members also coordinate art exhibits throughout the community and set up artist demonstrations, entertainment and informational workshops. The grant money is slated to support classes and workshops for all ages, the Harvest of Art community art exhibit, and possibly classes on art mediums the facility doesn’t normally have — such as stained-glass work or Japanese brush painting.
Numbers alone show the growth of the arts — the Eagan Art Festival has grown 10 percent in attendance each of the past five years. The Eagan Art House, founded in 1997, began with about 50 participants and now serves more than 2,000 students a year. In addition, activities by the art house at events and around the community reach another 2,000 people each year, Andersen said. Caponi Art Park attracts several thousand visitors each summer.
“Art is not only supporting the creative process, but it’s also building community,” Brown said.
Sculpting some space
Brown thinks Eagan’s next step should be creating more space for arts groups and classes. The art house is running out of room, she said, and the Eagan Theatre Company has no physical space — members rehearse in friends’ basements and library rooms. They perform shows at the Eagan Community Center.
“I think Eagan is now kind of what I call on the threshold,” Brown said. “Everyone really appreciates the art house, and there’s a lot of support for community theater. But one thing people are hesitant to talk about is we have no place. The theater has no place. The art house has outgrown its space. For a community to grow in the actual involvement of the arts, we’re going to have to start having a place for it.”
Experiencing art in different ways — looking at it versus creating it — is part of the discussion around public art. The Eagan Art House is set to build a public sculpture this summer. “This is part of what our community really wanted after the survey process — they really wanted something that they could enjoy and see and come across in their daily life,” Andersen of the Eagan Art House said. “Eagan is a really cool place to be right now with the arts just ready to really be a part of the fiber of our community, and I think people are recognizing that.”