St. Cloud landed a spot on the SMU’s National Center for Art Research 2016 list of “Top 20 Most Vibrant Art Communities in America.”
The city was ranked 16th for the list’s medium to small-sized cities in the United States, having a population under one million. This was the first time St. Cloud made the list.
According to the annual NCAR Arts Vibrancy Index Report, cities were chosen on the basis of demand and supply within the communities, along with public support. The report highlighted five key findings.
The first was the emergence of arts communities that made the list, both for the large and mid- to small-sized cities. Then, the findings show an emphasis on western and midwestern communities that rank in the mid- and small-sized cities.
The last few highlighted the amount of organizations in the cities that contributed to promoting the local art scene, as well as the centralized points within the community.
Justin Quinn, chair of the art department at St. Cloud State, attributed much of what landed St. Cloud a spot on the top 20 list to activities and opportunities like Summertime by George and the availability of grants for artists throughout the state.
“There are a lot of things that are happening in community,” he said. “I think we’re in better shape than what we thought.”
The report talks about St. Cloud’s diverse music scene, which brings the city into the top 5 percent for music-related businesses, and the organizations and institutions in the city that attract artists of all kinds to the region.
The reports states, “The historic Paramount Theatre & Visual Arts Center hosts visual and performance art events for multiple organizations throughout the year, and the Wirth Center for the Performing Arts enriches the area’s cultural environment with exceptional performing arts education and performances.”
Melissa Gohman, visual arts director at the Paramount Theatre & Visuals Arts Center, attributes St. Cloud’s growing arts community to the individuals and organizations that work together to make it all come together. She echoed what Quinn said, too, about the number of events, including the Art Crawl, that helped St. Cloud earn the ranking.
With that, places like the Paramount’s Visual Art Center (VAC), which opened in 1998, has been a place where people in the community can explore different art forms and find a “creative outlet,” she explained.
“I think that has helped people become more aware of the arts,” Gohman said. “I do think the addition of that to the community has grown over the last 17 years.”
Gohman said that for people of all ages, places like the VAC provide ways to learn about the arts without having to commit to a degree.
People of all levels of experience can find means to experiment with different art forms in the community, Gohman said. The Paramount features artists from around the nation to hold workshops on different art forms, and has camps where children can find their way around a pottery wheel.
Those children take that experience with them into their adult lives, which helps them value having art in the community, she said.
“I think that having kids get exposure to performing arts is so critical,” she said. “It makes them aware it’s an option.. they see art as a normal part of life.”
She said, “Start them young, it’s a good way to make sure the community values the arts.”
Department Chair Quinn shares in that idea. In regards to making the list, Quinn said, “This is great… But, we can do better.”
He asked, “Why can’t we be in the top five, and what will it take for us to be in the top five?”
These questions have come up before, he said, explaining that one of the challenges the department faces is bringing the arts out into the community.
Drilling down to the heart of it, Quinn said, “I think it would be beneficial to support the arts more in grade school and high schools.”
“So much of art appreciation comes from the audience, and having an audience that is willing to engage in art and value art… that comes from education in a lot of ways,” he said.
But, there are challenges with that route too. When budget cuts are being made, programs like the arts are often one of the first to go, Quinn said.
“Subjects like art and theater, these programs, maybe it’s hard to measure it, but students gain so much from that,” he said.
Measuring success or progress in these areas is what an institution might be looking for, but instead of aiming toward just getting a job, Quinn said the time spent at institutions should also focus on “being a complete person.”
“We have to recognize all aspects of people and all of our skills,” he continued. “And, funding the arts and the liberal arts as much as we’re funding the sciences is going to be necessary for people to survive and thrive in the future.”