The Lanesboro Arts Campus initiative was first proposed in 2000 and collaboratively cultivated with the community over the next decade by visionary rural arts advocate, and former Executive Director of Lanesboro Arts, John Davis. In 2011, the planning process and capital campaign for the Lanesboro Arts Campus was launched. This ongoing initiative engaged the community in a wide-range of public forums and surveys, identifying several parallel goals for the organization and the City of Lanesboro. The Lanesboro Arts Campus is a layered and memorable arts experience integrated into the fabric of Lanesboro that builds on, and is designed to enhance and connect, existing assets—the river, scenery, recreation, history, and downtown—while extending art into the community. The Lanesboro Arts Campus approach and philosophy is inspired by the principles of creative placemaking, a strategy that concentrates on arts and culture as a vehicle to enhance community vitality and create a more engaging environment for people to live, work and visit.
Since the beginning of the Lanesboro Arts Campus initiative, the Arts Campus has received national attention for its innovative work in the arts and has served as a catalyst for the community in several ways. In 2012, Lanesboro Arts was recognized as one of only five organizations in the nation to receive an Innovation Award from Americans for the Arts and Ovation TV. In 2013, Lanesboro was selected by ArtPlace as a one of America’s “Top 12 Small-Town Art Places.” Over $2.5 million has been invested in downtown Lanesboro over the past few years. Additionally, 10 new businesses have either opened or come under new ownership.
After securing funds from ArtPlace America and the National Endowment for the Arts in 2013, Lanesboro Arts began a public planning process in collaboration with the Lanesboro Park Board, the Lanesboro Area Chamber of Commerce, the Lanesboro Public School District, and local stakeholders. Additionally, F&M Community Bank in Preston provided $45,000 in matching funds for the campaign, which helped secure over $100,000 in local support. The community-driven process determined the aesthetic quality of the new “Poetry Parking Lot” haiku signage and fostered a discussion of transforming the green space east of the softball field into an amphitheater gathering space in the future.
The planning process engaged the community through a series of public forums and identified several parallel goals for Lanesboro Arts and the City of Lanesboro, and culminated with the completion in 2014 of several innovative projects that won an “Innovation in Planning” award in 2015 from the MN chapter of the American Planning Association. In 2015, Lanesboro Arts began a strategic planning process with Camponovo Consulting and participated in the Bush Community Creativity Cohort, working with leading peer organizations to identify and address priority issues in the field (such as equity, accessibility, and new funding models). 2016 focused on the long-term development of cross sector partnerships in support Lanesboro’s time as a host site for a traveling Smithsonian exhibit called Water/Ways during the first six weeks on 2017.
Lanesboro Arts led an initiative to secure a new Welcome Sign at the town’s western gateway on County Road 8. The design, consistent with other directional, historical and poetic signage in Lanesboro, was fabricated by Archetype at no cost to the city of Lanesboro. Lanesboro Arts contributed funds toward the design of the sign as well as staff time for project management. The Lanesboro Area Community Foundation awarded Lanesboro Arts a $1,000 grant that was used to cover the costs of installing the sign which was done in August of 2018. The city of Lanesboro is currently rehabbing and restoring the original wooden welcome sign.
In September 2018, community members were invited to come together for a series of events in Gateway park that included fun and creative ways for them to share their ideas, input, and vision on potential features and designs for a more formalized gathering and recreation space that supports a healthy community.
Lanesboro Arts and Commonweal Theatre co-presented Spring into Art in March 2019. This two-weekend interactive celebration of creativity and community featured an Art Crawl, a Canvas Clash, and an Exhibition of artwork made during the events.
In October 2019, over 200 community members of all ages participated in the creation of a large-scale Theatre District Mural with artist Erik Pearson. The design was first painted onto parachute cloth inside and will be installed at its final location on the south wall of the building at 204 Parkway Avenue N. in May of 2020.
The Lanesboro Arts Campus philosophy aims to enhances an entire rural community, and by extension the greater region, by strategically weaving the arts into city infrastructure and fostering a more inclusive, vibrant community that encourages creativity, walkability, and economic opportunity. Utilizing an asset-based, collaborative strategy for gaining long-term community buy-in, the Lanesboro Arts Campus initiative has become an innovative national model for small towns around the country.