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Has Rochester passed Winona as an arts hub?

The Diocese of Winona-Rochester move to Rochester follows a flow of artists to the larger city.

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Willow Gentile paints in downtown Rochester, Tuesday, April 12, 2022.
Contributed / Destination Medical Center
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ROCHESTER — The Diocese of Winona-Rochester is moving its headquarters to Rochester in a shift that’s a first in its 133-year history.

That Rochester is a population center of the region is a foregone conclusion. However, the notion that Rochester is a cultural and artistic center for the region — something alluded to by Bishop Robert Barron during his announcement of the Catholic diocese's move — has prompted some to chuckle.

A story in a Winona newspaper makes the claim that the city among the river bluffs holds its own very well compared to the Med City, thank you very much.

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Unless you’re referring to one of the three venues where you can catch some comedy ( open mic or touring comics ), we don’t see anything laughable about the arts and culture in Rochester.

Science and art

One knock on Rochester has been that with the city's biggest economic engines being so focused on science and technology — Mayo Clinic and IBM have been big employers — that the Med City isn't a hotbed for creativity with all those doctors, scientists and engineers lurking about.

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Turns out, human creativity is not so compartmentalized. Just recently, there have been several exhibits that combine science and art.

The Genome: Unlocking Life's Code exhibit in 2018 at the Rochester Art Center gave the public a look at the beauty and awe scientists and artists experience when examining life’s fundamental building blocks.

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Beli Jones, left, and Patrick Streefland, look at an interactive piece that’s part of the "Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code" exhibit on Tuesday at the Rochester Art Center in 2018.
Post Bulletin file

Using the dry tool of computer code, artist and engineer Eric Anderson created one of the exhibit’s most moving and fluid pieces — software that created likenesses of its observers from an amalgamation of stored facial images.

Brandon Sampson, founder of Limb Lab, a leading prosthesis company, plays in a roots rock band .

There’s the nurse who makes reductive prints on U.S. currency . I could go on, but I would run out of space and still leave people out.

Creative growth

Add the phenomenal success of the Rochester Art Center's " Homecoming Queen " show; Rochester Civic Music's ongoing theater concert series; the summer Down by the Riverside concerts; Thursdays Downtown; independent movie theater Gray Duck that screens locally made films , and you're still not diving deep below the surface of the arts and culture contributors and opportunities in Rochester.

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Utica Queen, who competed on on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” performs at the Rochester Art Center Dec. 4, 2021. Ethan Mundt, a Southeast Minnesota native, competed on the show as his drag persona, "Utica Queen."
John Molseed / Post Bulletin


One of the biggest corroborating pieces of evidence of that and Rochester’s overall artistic pull is the growing list of creatives who have come to Rochester from Winona.

Zach Zurn established Carpetbooth Studios in Rochester after graduating from Winona State University.

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Artists Maggie Panetta and Nathaniel Nelson are marking one year since moving their store and music promotion company Treedome from downtown Winona to downtown Rochester.

The two said they had hit a wall in growing their pursuits in Winona. Rochester’s population and growing arts scene drew them here, they said.

“I think for our specific brand of art, the population was a big part of it,” Nelson said. “The other is that the growth of Rochester’s art scene is exponential when compared to other cities in the region.”

Panetta, who is also a muralist, has found new opportunities here for putting art in public spaces .

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Maggie Panetta adds paint to a mural on concrete barricades on the 200 block of First Avenue Southeast in downtown Rochester.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin

Public output

“Public Art programming has a long way to go to catch up to Red Wing and Lanesboro and Winona,” Panetta said. “It’s had serious momentum (here) just in the last two to three years.”

Musician and brewer Nick Novotny initially came to Rochester for a job at Mayo Clinic after graduating from St. Mary’s University. He landed as an assistant brewer at Little Thistle, joined local band Loud Mouth Brass as a drummer and now plays for Clay Fulton and the Lost 40 .

Novotny founded the music festival Thaw , which returns this spring after a hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Novotny said Rochester’s established support and success with music inspired him to establish the festival.

“The beauty of Rochester is that it has had its fair share of music festivals and larger music events in the past and present,” he said. “So having that larger population, especially one that has a longstanding grassroots music scene that has boomed in the last handful of years, presented an opportunity that was very unique to this city.”

None of the former Winona artists had bad things to say about their former home along the Mississippi River. However, they each saw opportunities here for various reasons including population, money and the depth of the arts opportunities here.

It isn’t a dig at Winona that these creatives chose to further their crafts in a larger city. If anything it’s a testament to Winona’s ability, especially through its universities and college, to grow artists.

However, that asset is diminished after St. Mary’s University eliminated 11 majors including its arts and culture curriculum .

Winona will always have the advantage of its picturesque scenery and old building stock along the Mississippi River. As the late Canadian journalist and activist Jane Jacobs said, new ideas need old buildings. That might be why the seeds of creativity flourish in that city. However, Winona isn’t the only garden of creativity in Southeast Minnesota.

John Molseed joined the Post Bulletin in 2018. He covers arts, culture, entertainment, nature and other fun stories he's surprised he gets paid to cover. When he's not writing articles about Southeast Minnesota artists and musicians, he's either picking banjo, brewing beer, biking or looking for other hobbies that begin with the letter "b." Readers can reach John at 507-285-7713 or jmolseed@postbulletin.com.
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