Writer Sari Gordon reports from the bucolic environs of Red Wing and its neighboring towns across the Mississippi. As the area’s arts scene takes off, residents find themselves at a crossroads: how important are artists to the health of the region’s towns, and what are they prepared to do about it?
FIVE YEARS AGO I QUIT MY HIGH-PAYING CORPORATE JOB in Eden Prairie and moved to Ellsworth, Wisconsin, to write a book. I wrote and wrote and spent up my 401(k) and wrote some more. And then I sold some stuff on eBay and kept writing—until a squirrel moved into the ceiling over our bedroom and I stopped writing and started sitting outside with a .22.
Today, I’m broke, I have a manuscript somewhere on a hard drive, and the land around me is squirrel-free. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be.
Red Wing is the nearest big town. I went looking for other writers, musicians, and artists to hang out with. It took awhile. If you walk around downtown Red Wing, you get the feeling that the cool part of town is right around the corner. While Red Wing has great arts institutions, the artists themselves are hard to find. In fact, I’d lived here three years before I found my pal David Culver, the amazing sculptor, living right down the road from me in Bay City, Wisconsin.
There should be a community. About twenty years ago, a tide of money John Kerwin in his model loft at the old Maltery in Red Wing, MNwashed over Red Wing. NSP built a nuclear power plant and paid the local Prairie Island Indian Community $2.25 million a year to store nuclear waste. Then the Treasure Island Casino opened, and is now the area’s biggest employer. Between 1978 and 1990, at least six major sites were rehabbed: The St. James Hotel (and $8 million investment), the Red Wing Pottery Place project, the Red Wing Armory, the T.B. Sheldon Theatre, the Riverfront Development Centre and the Red Wing Depot Renovation. Robert Hedin and his wife purchased the Anderson Center grounds and building outright from the Red Wing School District during that period and developed it privately. Down the road is a three-story barn with a poem on the side. Inside is one of the world’s last harp makers, a global music instrument store, and performance space.
Today, Red Wing is faced with a challenge. According to a 2007 Comprehensive Plan, “[Red Wing] contains no major advantages relating to institutions, infrastructures, labor, incentives, and other such issues: quality of life comprises its primary attraction for businesses, residents, etc.” The report repeatedly states: “The City should promote other complementary businesses and organizations engaging in visual arts (galleries), music/entertainment, artisan-related uses arts-related development incentives.”
Robert Hedin, the Executive Director of the Anderson Center for Interdisciplinary Arts told me that in the last fifteen years of urban renewal, the arts have undergone “nothing less than a Renaissance.”…continue reading the full essay on mnartists.org.
Click here to read Sari Gordon’s engaging account of the complicated relationships brewing between art, artists, and the surrounding communities in this region, and about the revealing differences in the ways two towns are tackling the issues surrounding this sort of cultural growth.
About the author: Sari Gordon is a professional writer.