LANESBORO — Shock and surprise.
That's how Lanesboro Arts Director of Development Courtney Bergey summed up her reaction to news the nonprofit was one of ten organizations awarded the prestigious Bush Prize for Community Innovation.
"We were really excited because what makes this exciting for us is it's not just an arts award," Bergey said.
On Tuesday, the Bush Foundation announced its 2014 Bush Prize for Community Innovation winners. The prize recognizes organizations that have a track record of using innovation to create positive changes in communities. It comes with a hefty financial reward — an unrestricted grant equal to 25 percent of the organization's prior fiscal budget year, up to $500,000. In the case of Lanesboro Arts, the grant award totals $123,528.
Competition for the grants was fierce, with 164 organizations from North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota applying for the prize. In total, four nonprofits in Minnesota were awarded the prize, including three with connections to southeast Minnesota — Breaking Free, Cannon River Watershed Partnership and Lanesboro Arts.
Bush Foundation's Communications Director Dominick Washington said Lanesboro Arts stood out because of the nonprofit's ability to collaborate with the community and use the arts to help revitalize the town of 754.
"It's the fact they were engaging the entire community with their services and it's not just, 'oh this is art for art's sake,' but 'how can we use art to breath life into this town and set it up for the future?' " Washington said.
Lanesboro Arts' history dates back to 1980 when a group of grassroots artist launched the Lanesboro Art Council. The group started hosting exhibitions and the annual Art in the Park festival. It also helped revitalize the St. Mane Theatre, which has become the home of the Commonwheel Theatre Company. Recently, the nonprofit merged with the Cornucopia Art Center. One of the nonprofit's biggest initiatives is to create a Lanesboro Arts Campus with the goal of making the arts a part of everyday life, Bergey said.
"It's an attempt to create an arts campus in our community, so instead of having the arts have to be only in the gallery or only in the theater, we want to put the arts everywhere, build it into the physical infrastructure of our community," she said.
As for the grant money, Bergey said it will go a long way in creating a sustainable future for the organization. The hope is to use some of the money to expand programs and enhance some of the nonprofit's capital assets. They also want to ask residents if they have ideas on how the money should be spent.
Helping victims of sex trafficking
The Bush Foundation also recognized the work of Breaking Free, a St. Paul-based nonprofit that does work in Rochester to help victims of sex trafficking. The group's founder and executive director, Vednita Carter, said she is deeply honored to be among the foundation's grant recipients. She said her hope is that the organization can use some of the $385,131 in grant money to broaden its presence in Rochester. The nonprofit has had a goal of getting its own office in Rochester and establishing transitional housing for girls and women fleeing the sex trafficking industry.
"We want to be able to do the full gamut of services eventually in Rochester that we do here in the Twin Cities," Carter said.
Improving water quality
Also winning the Bush Prize was the Cannon River Watershed Partnership, a Northfield-based group focused on improving water quality. The nonprofit has helped prevent 106 million gallons of untreated sewage per day from entering lakes, streams and rivers in southeast Minnesota by working with residents of small communities to update old sewage systems.. A big part of its work is its Southeast Minnesota Wastewater Initiative project, which is done in partnership with the Southeast Minnesota Water Resources Board, and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
CRWP's Executive Director Beth Kallestad said they are thrilled to have won the $88,213 grant. At this point, she said the nonprofit stills needs to decide how to use the grant money.
"It's still yet to be determined, but a very exciting and good problem to have," she said. "It will definitely give us some stability and give us some opportunities."