Eric Decker

Eric Decker

The Rochester art scene is bursting at the seams — with nowhere to go.

Reading through the proposals for the reuse of the Armory as the Rochester Senior Center relocates, I was stunned by the dozens of letters of support with solid commitments by local arts organizations to use this venue as a collaborative artspace. There are letters from visual artists, photographers, theatres, choirs, a symphony, violin recitals, writer's workshops, play festivals, book publishers, cultural dance groups, music producers, poets, card clubs and dance studios, all craving a venue for working, collaborating, and performing.

What an exciting opportunity to energize North Broadway through the arts — and encourage the positive community aspects that follow.

The model is straightforward: Rent office space to multiple arts organizations that can pool resources and program the third-floor performance space. What one nascent organization may be unable to coordinate themselves, such as professional lighting or hiring a graphic designer, could be approachable together.

This model is common in other industries, as it provides infrastructure for entrepreneurs, investors and advisers to create an integrated ecosystem.

There are 13 similar organizations in Minnesota with shared artspaces, from the Twin Cities to Brainerd and Duluth. In each of these communities, the investment has spurred additional development and economic vitality.

Another programmed arts venue in downtown Rochester could keep more entertainment dollars in our own community and limit the weekend traffic to the Twin Cities for cultural events.

As Rochester continues to grow, we also have an opportunity to encourage young professionals to establish themselves in our community.

After salary, employees want a high community quality of life. John Naisbit, one of the world's leading corporate guidance gurus, writes, "A vibrant arts community is critical to how corporations decide where to locate, and how people decide where to work,"

Rochester has fallen behind smaller cities such as Duluth, which generates 922 full-time arts jobs and is ranked third in arts economic impact. For the necessary growth to happen, a positive, collaborative environment must be cultivated, which the Armory can provide.

Finally, the arts are important in building our community and sharing our stories, leading us to a greater understanding of our common humanity and desperately needed empathy. A mutual resource can expand these benefits as one cultural community may be dancing, while others take violin lessons, rehearse for a play, or have a place to play cards.

The Armory space can become an artistic hub we call home, serving dozens of varied cultural organizations together as we build stronger bonds. From this, we can grow out into the community, increasing our understanding of each other and our world.

Minnesotans believe the arts are essential. We sing, carve, write poetry, attend concerts and play instruments. As a city, we have the opportunity to create together in the Armory.

Eric Decker, of Rochester, is a founding director of Absolute Theater, which plans to hold its first performance in October.

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