Pine City art lessons bring artists out of the shadows

Pine City, a little more than an hour up I-35 from the Twin Cities, hasn’t been known as an artists community. As of a couple years ago, there was no art gallery in town and there’s no annual pottery tour, for example.

And yet, when a few people in town started to talk a little more than two years ago about establishing a center for the arts, it caught on. Serving less as a showcase for accomplished artists and more as a learning opportunity for residents, the Pine Center for the Arts opened in an empty storefront last summer. Started as a volunteer effort, it received $15,000 from the state Legacy Amendment and “started to kick it in gear,” says Kris Seuntjens, one of the organizers.

Right now, about 25 artists and others are teaching classes and offering lessons in art, music, dance, literature and the theater. About 7,000 people have somehow been touched by the effort, including 15 violin-lesson recipients and other budding musicians who “exercised their courage muscle” Thursday evening by putting on a concert.

One effect has been to bring accomplished artists out of the shadows where no one saw them, Suentjens says. “The artists make a little money (from teaching) but it also lifts them up and they can say, “Oh, this is really valued by people.'”

Suentjens thinks there’s a potential economic development impact in town. That’s a dream in a lot of Minnesota towns, but even if it’s elusive, the organization seems like something that can be duplicated elsewhere and has other value.

“I would love to encourage small towns to do this because, it’s good for the arts, of course, but it creates this wonderful sense of happiness, community and friendship.”