No matter how talented you are on your toes, you can’t dance away leaky gutters, creaky elevators and rusty masonry. So dance fan and philanthropist Caroline Amplatz has donated $3 million to help the Cowles Center for Dance & the Performing Arts rehab its Arts & Education Wing.
The eight-story sandstone building, on the corner of Hennepin Avenue and 6th Street in downtown Minneapolis, is home to 28 nonprofit arts groups, including James Sewell Ballet, Zenon Dance Company, Illusion Theater and two dance schools.
“It’s been decades since any substantial capital reinvestment has gone into this facility,” said Robert Droddy, development director for the Cowles Center. “Hundreds of students and arts educators pass through its doors almost every day. And the building itself has so much history behind it.”
Originally opened in 1888 as a Masonic Temple, the building was relaunched as Hennepin Center for the Arts in the 1970s and became part of Cowles Center in 2011. Designed by Long and Kees, the same Minneapolis firm responsible for City Hall and the nearby Lumber Exchange, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The other major piece of the Cowles complex, the former Shubert Theater, grabbed the headlines — and most of the capital campaign funds, as well — when it was moved in 1999 from its original location 1½ blocks away, setting a Guinness World Record as the heaviest structure ever transported on rubber tires. The move alone cost $4 million, and the final bill for the rehab was $44 million.
By contrast, the former Masonic Temple has not undergone any major renovation since the 1970s. It can be tough for arts organizations to raise funds for unglamorous but necessary purposes such as building repair and maintenance. So Amplatz’s gift will allow for needed elevator repairs; replacement of roofing and gutters that now leak into the eighth-floor theater space; tuck-pointing of degraded brickwork, and restoration of stained and eroding architectural finishes on the structure’s facade.
Amplatz, an attorney from Golden Valley whose family fortune is based on medical devices developed by her father, Dr. Kurt Amplatz, is known for philanthropy that targets life improvement for children. She made headlines of her own in 2009 with a $50 million donation to the University of Minnesota for a children’s hospital named for her father, the second largest gift in the university’s history. She launched Caroline’s Kids Foundation in 2007; this year, she expanded her efforts with Caroline Amplatz Giving.
She said in a statement that “dance and arts education are passions of mine” and that she wanted to be “able to help create a safe and beautiful space for artists to perform, learn and grow.”
Amplatz’s gift is among the three largest ever made to the Cowles Center. To date, 11 private funders — including the late John and Sage Cowles, Kathy and Bob Goodale, the McKnight Foundation, Target and U.S. Bank — have given the Cowles Center $1 million or more apiece.
Kelley Lindquist, who chairs the Cowles Center board, said that Amplatz’s interest was sparked in part by the center’s work with “distance learning,” in which top arts professionals conduct classes and demonstrations via video for schoolchildren throughout Minnesota. This work fits Amplatz’s giving focuses of health and education, as well as a third interest, the preservation of older buildings, Lindquist said.
“Getting this icon in need of some upgrades up to date over the next year and half will be a wonderful gift,” he said.