Have a story idea? Interested in pastels? If so, and you live in Scott County, you won’t have to go far to broaden your artistic horizons.

A little more than a year after the closing of a joint public-private art gallery, the nonprofit Savage Arts Council (SAC) has celebrated the grand opening of a 2,000-square-foot space at the Savage Library for displaying, teaching and making art.

The grand opening of the Savage Arts and Cultural Center, in operation since last November as a meeting space and gallery, opens the door for new art classes and workshops starting March 3. It also returns a physical presence for the arts after the January 2013 closure of Savage Art Studios and Gallery, which also offered classes and showcased art. Despite reduced rent and a property tax subsidy, the business couldn’t make enough money to stay open.

The City Council initially decided not to subsidize the SAC for the gallery space in autumn 2012. Then, later in the year, the city learned that the Scott County Library administration would be moving. That opened space that both the SAC and the Savage Senior Club needed. Using $15,000 from a grant by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, the city renovated the space for the two groups, which started sharing the space late last fall. Under a draft agreement with the SAC, the city will not charge rent over the course of a four-year agreement, which has an option to renew.

“It’s really nice to have this place to call home,” said Heather Mathews, the new center’s program director and a board member of the SAC, which has been “virtual” since its founding in 2006. “We’ve been meeting in coffeehouses and little shops and anybody that will let us have a little space to meet.”

The group now has a space for classes in literary and visual arts as well as a place to show and market the works of local artists. It will also host an “open studio” on Sundays for members and use the space in its annual events, such as the Savage Juried Art Competition and Show and the Scott County Art Crawl.

Studio space gone

One thing the new location can’t replace is the studio space lost with the closure of the downtown gallery. “There is [still] a need” for studios, said Mathews, who said that some artists had to move their work to Bloomington and some started working from home when the Savage location closed.

She said that SAC is “not actively pursuing” new studio space, and that the new library location is too small for studios. “We see classes as our next step,” she said, as well as gauging the art interests of residents.

And there is interest, she said. After the group sent out a brochure of its new classes last week, she received the most calls she ever had — from “people just wanting to talk to me, saying ‘We’re so glad you’re here.’ ”

Mayor Janet Williams is also pleased. A community needs more than sports, she said. “To be a well-rounded person, you shouldn’t focus on one single thing. We’re recognizing that we think the arts are important, too.”

Williams said that the city’s next investment in the arts could be a statue of the city’s namesake, Marion W. Savage. But like the new space for arts and seniors and the remodeling of the Savage Depot, both of which were paid for from the tribe grant, the mayor said that public money should not be spent on a new arts project.

For now, the SAC’s fostering of area artists seems to be doing well relying mostly on grants, donations and volunteer time. If Mathews is right, that nurturing will have long-term public benefits. She cites studies showing that arts promote greater tolerance of diversity and freedom of expression. It also can bring new people to town.

“It attracts people to your community,” she said.


Graison Hensley Chapman is a Twin Cities freelance writer.