Many theater and gallery venues went dark in 2020 as it became necessary for audiences to seek alternate entertainment experiences. But, the 2021 summer spotlight is shining on many great arts and culture venues in the valley as they prepare for a comeback.
Heather Rutledge, executive director at ArtReach St. Croix, reflects on how heavily impacted the arts have been by the pandemic. “It’s been a year where people’s earned income, particularly in performing arts, went from 100 [percent] to zero,” Rutledge says.
Initial shutdowns and restrictions curbed our ability to attend many live events in person, but theater directors and venues did find some creative ways to still reach audiences.
“We had some outdoor performance opportunities [last] summer, and people were overwhelmed with gratitude for the opportunity to see live music and live theater,” Rutledge says. “I can appreciate what the audiences are waiting for and how different it is from watching a movie or watching TV.”
Closures and cancelled events were indeed disappointing, but, in this Best of St. Croix Valley issue, we’re beyond excited to welcome back and celebrate some staples in the St. Croix Valley performing and fine arts scenes. Can we get a round of applause for …
ArtReach St. Croix
Rutledge describes ArtReach St. Croix as a sort of chamber of commerce for the arts in St. Croix Valley. This nonprofit arts organization sponsors community arts events and seeks to connect members of the St. Croix Valley communities to visual, literary and performing arts.
“Our main event for the summer will probably be July 8th, and it’s the opening of our annual members’ show,” Rutledge says. The event will run from 5- 9 p.m. by appointment. “It’s going to be very different but still fun,” she adds, explaining that they will have gathering space outdoors and a limited number of people in the building at a time.
Gallery hours: Wednesday- Saturday: 12- 4 p.m.
224 4th St. N., Stillwater, Minn.
Franconia Sculpture Park
From towering outdoor sculptures to kids’ art classes, Franconia is a preeminent spot for the arts in the St. Croix Valley. Explore over 50 acres of outdoor art installations, watch visiting artists in residence work on new pieces or check out one of Franconia’s live music performances. June kicks off with one of Franconia’s new Art Classes @ Franconia Commons, a three-hour art-making workshop. The June 12th class, taught by Lee Noble, explores sound sculpture and is open to all ages.
Franconia Sculpture Park will also re-open its Art & Farmers Market which first launched in 2020. At this outdoor market, both artists and farmers come together to sell handmade crafts and fresh produce. The market takes place on the first Sunday of every month, May- October, from 10 a.m.- 2 p.m.
Park hours: Monday- Sunday: 8 a.m.- 8 p.m.
Commons hours: Monday-Sunday: 9 a.m.- 5 p.m.
29836 St. Croix Trail, Shafer, Minn.
Stillwater Art Guild Gallery
New owner Bob Lyksett says the mission of the Stillwater Art Guild Gallery is twofold: “First, to be a primary source for fine art for the Stillwater area and surrounding communities.”
Second: “We like to look at ourselves as a sanctuary,” Lyksett says. “A lot of people like to come in and walk around and enjoy the music and the art, and not buy anything. It’s a nice reprieve, especially in the summer.”
Gallery hours: Thursday- Monday: 12- 5 p.m.
Closed Tuesday and Wednesday (hours may extend in the near future)
402 Main St. N., Stillwater, Minn.
Hastings Arts Center
Opened in 2015, Hastings Arts Center has become a host for both performing and visual arts in the St. Croix Valley. “We’re hoping to have some art showings, maybe some concerts,” says director Sarah Lockwood when discussing summer programming. “We did have—last summer—a group perform on our front porch. So, there’s a possibility we might do something like that.”
The Hastings Arts Center also has a music school called Blessings Academy that has stayed active during the pandemic. “There are 12 teachers teaching, and last March, we all ended up going online,” Lockwood says. “Some have come back to teaching in person; some are going to a hybrid model and some teachers have remained online until further notice. But our doors are open for the school for sure.”
The center aims to be a hub for the arts community in Hastings. “We’ve been trying to reach out to musicians and visual artists,” Lockwood says. “We want to promote their art however we can, both right now and also in the future.”
216 4th St. E., Hastings, Minn.
Kelley Art Gallery
Located in downtown Hudson, Wis., Kelley Art Gallery has been a family-owned business since 1985. “We have a variety of art by local artists within the Twin Cities radius,” says sales and design specialist Linda James. The gallery also specializes in custom framing with one of the largest frame selections in the state.
Hours: Monday- Saturday: 11 a.m.- 5 p.m.
125 2nd St. S., Hudson, Wis.
St. Croix ArtBarn
President Brady Langer says the team at the St. Croix ArtBarn is very excited to be open this summer. “We plan to perform all of our shows outside in our natural oak grove amphitheater in order for us to accommodate the largest audiences possible while still maintaining appropriate social distancing in the open air,” Langer says.
Langer says the goal of the ArtBarn is to bring people together from surrounding communities through the shared experience of art. “We love that when you come see a show at the ArtBarn you will almost always see someone you know onstage, and it's very possible it may be someone that you didn't know had such hidden talents,” Langer says.
The summer season at the ArtBarn will kick off with Stephen Schwartz's hit musical Godspell in mid-July, followed up by the retelling of Tom Sawyer as the children’s musical in August.
1040 Oak Ridge Dr., Osceola, Wis.
St. Croix Festival Theater
The St. Croix Festival Theater was founded to bring professional theater experiences to the members of the surrounding river valley communities.
“St. Croix Festival Theatre's mission is to make the performing arts welcoming and available to all people as an essential part of the well-being and vitality of the community,” executive artistic director Jason Richards says. “We are proud to be a part of this community and we are excited to reopen!”
The theater expects to produce a full slate of productions this summer season, starting with Sense and Sensibility which will run from June 12th through July 3rd. The theater’s interior seating will be reduced to 50 seats per show, with COVID-safe protocols in place for both patrons, artists, and staff.
125 N. Washington St., St. Croix Falls, Minn.
Stillwater’s Zephyr Theatre aims to create a unique and powerful experience through art, both visual and performance based. “Creating experiences that are meaningful to people and to the community is really the core of our mission,” executive director Calyssa Hall says.
The theatre also has a teaching component for youth, who can take studio classes through the children’s theatre or perform alongside adults in a production. “The third part is to be a gathering space for art and artists in the St. Croix Valley,” Hall says. “We want to be able to amplify local artists as well as regional artists.”
“We’re hoping to be doing a lot of outdoor performances this summer,” Hall says, adding, “We are formulating the rest of our season right now. Our plans include a big musical down in one of the parks, and then we also want to do a Shakespeare festival this year.”
601 Main St. N., Stillwater, Minn.