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Area’s cultural capital? Winona hosts three big summer events

By Tom Weber

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

Anyone who doubts the impact a college or two can have on a community need only visit Winona this summer.

Starting in late June and running through early August, Winona will host three major cultural events: The fourth annual Great River Shakespeare Festival, the first Minnesota Beethoven Festival and the first Gilmore Creek Summer Theatre.

Winona, in other words, is offering a slate of events that many bigger cities can only envy.

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What’s going on over there?

"Well, it’s a college town," said Ned Kirk, a Saint Mary’s University music professor and artistic director of the Minnesota Beethoven Festival. "In the circles I run in, everybody’s enthusiastic about this."

"We have a really enthusiastic audience base here," said Julie Smith, managing director of the Beethoven festival. "There’s a lot of passion for the arts in Winona."

That passion starts at Saint Mary’s and Winona State University, and spreads through the community, said Pat Mutter, executive director of Visit Winona.

"The talent has always been here, with the universities and the educational resources," she said. "They’ve got the facilities and the people who understand and have that background in culture and the arts."

Still, she said, the community had to battle the perception that big events only happen in big cities.

"A lot of people finally said, ‘Well, why not here?’" she said. "That’s what happened with the Shakespeare festival. We heard about them, and they weren’t even looking at Winona, but we pursued them."

The Shakespeare festival has enjoyed three successful seasons in Winona, garnering rave reviews in the process.

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The Beethoven festival is the result of the financial generosity of a publicity-shy classical music fan who wanted to share his love of music with the community.

"His idea is that it’s a social responsibility to provide an artistic experience to everybody in a place where you can’t normally get it," Kirk said. Hence, among other events, the Beethoven festival will feature a free outdoor concert by the Minnesota Orchestra.

The professional Gilmore Creek Summer Theatre will be based at the Saint Mary’s Performance Center. Again, the genesis was campus-based. "Our theater department wanted to create new opportunities for local actors," said Smith, who manages the Performance Center.

Even Kirk sometimes has difficulty believing Winona is about to become the cultural capital of southern Minnesota.

"It feels a little surreal in one sense," he said. "On the other hand, it’s taking place."

Go&Do

Winona’s three big summer cultural festivals:

  • The Great River Shakespeare Festival, June 29-July 29, featuring professional productions of "As You Like It" and "Macbeth." Tickets and information: www.grsf.org.
  • The Minnesota Beethoven Festival, July 7-July 22. Two concerts by the Minnesota Orchestra, as well as concerts by Canadian Brass, pianist Kevin Kenner, the Artaria String Quartet, the Amadeus Trio and the Filipovich/Vance/Kirk Piano Trio. Tickets and information: www.mnbeethovenfestival.org.
  • Gilmore Creek Summer Theatre, July 5-Aug. 5, with professional productions of "Lend Me a Tenor" and "Showtune: Celebrating the Words & Music of Jerry Herman." Tickets and information: www.pagetheatre.org.
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