It's been a big year for the Hastings Prescott Area Arts Council.

The number of artist-members has almost tripled to 60. Last spring, the group launched the Spring Lake Park Reserve Music Festival, which more than 500 visitors attended. It started several arts' and writers' groups, created a program to display art in local businesses and opened a gallery in downtown Prescott.

The organization's second-annual arts gala on Friday at Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish Hall will celebrate those successes with a dinner, a silent auction, an awards ceremony and entertainment.

The event also will honor local arts heroes — "everyday people who do amazing things in art," said arts council chairman Dick Graham. "That will be the highlight of the evening."

Honorees Ken and Deanna Roen, of Prescott, longtime supporters of the arts, donated the space in Prescott for the Orange Dragon Art Gallery, which opened last summer.

Ken Roen, a retired teacher active in theater all his life, said the couple's trip to Sedona, Ariz., inspired the idea.

"That was a tremendous arts community," he said. "It was such an inspiring place that we hated to leave. It was so inviting and encouraging. I thought 'Why can't we do that in Prescott?' "

It turns out plenty of people felt the same. The couple connected with the arts council, which turned a property of Roen's into a gallery for local painters, weavers and other artists.

"They've done a tremendous job of transforming it," Roen said. "They've created quite a stir. In the short time they have been here, they have made a great impression on our community and have helped to bring our two communities together."

Organizers also selected Janet Letnes Martin, a longtime Hastings writer who has authored or co-authored 17 books. She and co-author Suzann Nelson received the Minnesota Book Award for humor for "Growing Up Lutheran," and the book inspired a series of "Church Basement Ladies" musicals, which play regularly at the Plymouth Playhouse and in theatres around the county. Martin travels around doing speaking engagements on, as she said, "hot dishes, hot pads, and hot flashes."

"She's a local business woman, author, she's a wonderful mom, and just a pillar in the community," said Diane Saed, arts council literary arts chairwoman. "She's a very big-hearted woman."

In keeping with the spirit of Martin's work, Saed said one of the gala's more than 100 silent auction items include a day's help from a group of "Lutheran ladies" who will houseclean and make a hot dish dinner.

Last year's gala brought in about $30,000. "It's a real strong vote of confidence from the community," said Graham, who has been with the arts council since it formed about five years ago.

Members of the volunteer organization said they hope to bring a paid staff member on board in the future.

"We're going to get there," said Saed, who volunteers 20 and 30 hours a week for HPAAC and facilitates a writing group. "We're constantly putting our shoulders to the wheel, and we'll get there. I retired from teaching three years ago, and my husband tells me I'm busier than when I was teaching."

This summer, the arts organization will participate in a preliminary feasibility study with Artspace, a nonprofit group that helps transform vacant properties into arts spaces. "They'll come back with a report card judging our strengths," Graham said.

Graham said that a project could help Hastings become an even more vibrant arts community and inspire accompanying artists' lofts and studios.

"Arts can play a significant role in making a community attractive," Graham said. "We could be another Lanesboro. We could be."

Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities freelance writer.