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Arts panel in the works for Cottage Grove

With no formal outlet for area artists to foster the growing arts scene in Cottage Grove, city officials decided that a new volunteer commission is warranted.

Earlier this year, area citizens sought direction for the formation of either a city-led or citizen-led arts commission. During the City Council meeting last week, two supporters of the formation of an arts commission said having a formal committee would strengthen the community.

“Just give us a table to meet and bring people together,” said Shawn Foster, who is a guitar teacher and an active member of the area arts scene. “All it takes is a little bit of time and risk; it doesn’t cost any money. There is an absence here.”

City Administrator Ryan Schroeder detailed the structures of various arts advisory commissions in communities around the Twin Cities, and he presented four options for Cottage Grove: offer emotional support for the cause; amend the mission statement of an existing commission to include the arts; revisit the idea early next year during the city’s all-commission meeting; or move to form a commission.

The council voted 3-2 to create the commission, and while members unanimously recognized the importance of the arts in a community, they disagreed on how the commission should be run and did not discuss specific issues the commission would address.

Voting against the creation of a commission at this time, council member Derrick Lehrke questioned if it would bring value to the citizens.

“Just because it’s a good idea doesn’t mean the city of Cottage Grove should do it,” he said. “Before we create an arts commission let’s create a mission statement and goals and figure out how it’s going to work. What is the commission going to do and is there a value?”

The council discussed whether the arts commission should be a city entity or the responsibility of citizens. Council member Dave Thiede, who cast the second dissenting vote, expressed concern that the commission might be underutilized.

“If the interest is not there from the commission, then all of a sudden we’re sitting here trying to keep a commission going that isn’t getting enough interest,” he said.

Foster asked the council to help schedule future commission meetings and assist with recruiting interested people.

Council member Justin Olsen agreed that the arts are an important facet to any community and supported the commission’s formation.

“Having lived here for many years I can speak with a great deal of certainty that there is a vibrant arts culture here and they are looking for the opportunity to come together,” Olsen said. “The arts, whichever you want to define as music, theater, photography, gardening, dancing, they are very healthy for a community.”

After voting to form an arts commission, city officials are expected to meet with interested residents Wednesday, Nov. 6, to further discuss creating a commission. The intent is for it to start as a city-led commission but later be handed over to be run by volunteers independent of the city.