by CHRIS ROGERS
From neighborhood mixers to Shakespeare in the streets, Winona is in the middle of bit of a block party bonanza right now. The latest road-closing celebration is this weekend’s Shut Down Third Street and Swinging in the Streets event, which will bring dance lessons, an 18-piece jazz orchestra, local artists, and more than a dozen indie rock bands to downtown Winona this Saturday. It’s all free.
Third Street will be closed off between Center and Market streets, and there will be live music from bands such as Lydia Liza, Author, and Early Eyes throughout the afternoon and early evening. At 6 p.m., Molly and Stan Breitlow will offer swing dance lessons before The La Crosse Jazz Orchestra takes the stage at 7 p.m. for a dance full of swing, Latin, foxtrot, and waltzes. “They’re the go-to jazz band right now in the area,” Molly Breitlow said. Local artists will be showing their wares, and various groups will offer all-ages activities.
The event is hosted by the local River City Ballroom Dancers, the local music production company Treedome, and the Winona Main Street Program, as part of Main Street’s series of arts and culture events on Third Street called Third Space.
“We wanted people to have a reason to walk down the streets downtown, whether that be a really cool chalk mural or a window display,” Main Street Program Coordinator Emily Kurash explained. Winona is one of three cities across Minnesota that received grant funding from the Bush Foundation and Springboard for the Arts for Artists on Main Street projects. In Winona, Main Street leaders decided to launch a series of events and art installations that, they hope, will draw foot traffic downtown and help support local businesses. “We have this amazing new park and we wanted to keep that traction going in the business district,” Kurash said, referring to Levee Park. She added, “One of the really important features of the Artists on Main Street grants is that artists are getting paid for their work, because artists are professionals and they need to get paid for their work.”
“I think the appeal of block parties is that we want to reach out beyond one single crowd — not just Broken [World Records] or just Ed’s [No Name Bar] — and really involve the entire community,” Treedome Vice President Danny Matthews said, referring to Winona bars that typically host live music. The Shut Down Third Street event will put local bands and regional groups, most of whom have not performed in Winona before, in front of a broader audience, he explained.
Molly Breitlow is also hoping River City Ballroom Dancers can reach a broader crowd. “What surprises me — because we’ve been doing [dance events] for so long — is that people say, ‘Oh my gosh, I didn’t even know this existed,’” she stated. “What we really wanted to do was bring this event downtown to make it even more accessible,” she continued. “Our goal overall is to get people downtown and hopefully to make the whole of downtown more vibrant in general,” Molly Breitlow added.
The Third Space series will receive more grant funding next year, Kurash said, and her organization will be looking for ideas of how to use it. That grant funding will taper off in the future, and the Main Street Program is hoping that local fundraising, new grant opportunities, and other organizations can help keep the programming going, she stated. “Some of the events we’re doing are a means to an ends,” Kurash explained. “We at Main Street don’t always want to be the curator of events. There may be other groups that say, ‘Hey we want to take this over,’ and if it makes sense, if they’re the right group to take it over, we would love that … We want other groups to pickup the mantle and move forward.” She added, “There are really really incredibly generous donors and businesses in town, but we know that that amount [of funding] is finite so it’s about finding that point where what we’re doing is sustainable.”
For more information on the event visit www.treedomemn.com/shut-down-third-street.
Editor’s note: Winona Post Reporter Nathaniel Nelson is one of the organizers of Treedome.