Actors rehearsed “Mister James and Mister Jeff” at the Historic Masonic Temple Theatre.

Winona to craft grand plan for arts


Children visited the Minnesota Marine Art Museum.
Children visited the Minnesota Marine Art Museum.

A band played at Levee Park for Mid West Music Fest.
A band played at Levee Park for Mid West Music Fest.


Winona leaders agree. They want to build on the city’s vibrant arts scene. But how? What ideas and investments should be a priority for the city of Winona? In the New Year, city officials will attempt to answer those questions with a new grand plan for the arts that will guide city policy for the next decade-plus.

That forthcoming guiding document is called the Arts and Cultural Plan. It would replace an Arts and Humanities section of the city’s 2007 comprehensive plan and would become part of the next comprehensive plan laying out a vision for Winona into the 2030s. The City Council plans to spend up to $30,000 over the next two years to hire consultants to write the plan, under the direction of city staff and with input from the public.

When it comes to supporting arts and cultural initiatives, Winona City Council member Eileen Moeller said, “The super-cheerleader-soccer-mom in me wants to say, ‘Go everything!’ But the city can’t do that.” The city has limited resources. “I’m hoping this [plan] will help guide those investments we make as a city and maybe help us think creatively abut how to incorporate the artistic community into city plans that we might not have thought of before,” Moeller added.

“It’ll help us to focus,” Winona Arts and Culture Coordinator Lee Gundersheimer said of the plan. It would identify Winona’s strengths, what Winona is missing, and what has worked in other communities, he stated. “In other words, what’s worked in Decorah and Northfield and why? And what are we doing that Northfield and Decorah wish they were doing?” Gundersheimer explained.

So what sorts of things could the new plan address? Moeller floated one idea: Developing more frequent and robust community-theater productions. “That’s something a lot of communities have, and it’s a really important mechanism for young people to socialize and have their first contact with the arts sometimes … I don’t think if that’s something Winona feels it needs or can support, but that’s something a lot of cities have at a municipal level that’s a way to recreate that’s different from being on a volleyball team or something like that.”

The plan could influence what the city spends money and staff time on, but it could also lead to other kinds of policy changes, such as tweaking zoning rules. “Let’s say there’s interest in having more murals … That might instruct us as a governing body to say, ‘Hey, we need to look at what our regulations are for painting buildings because there’s a huge interest in this and it brings people to the downtown area and helps businesses grow,’” Moeller suggested.

Then there are other creative ideas for how to include creativity in city projects, such as the upcoming poetry walk, in which city contractors replacing uneven sidewalks next year will stamp some sidewalks with short poems.

With theater, music, and film festivals throughout the year, a world-class art museum, and a community of local creatives, Winona has a lot for which to be thankful. The city itself has come a long way since 2007, too. In just the last few years, the City Council created an arts and culture coordinator position and invested millions in making the Historic Masonic Temple Theatre a quality performance venue and arts center.

However, one goal laid out in the 2007 comprehensive plan remains a challenge: funding art. The 2007 plan called for the city to commission public art for parks and downtown and develop more funding sources for arts and cultural activities in Winona. The city once made small grants to local artists, but has not replenished a pot of money used for that purpose. The city offered small grants to a handful of artists this year, but they may be a one-time occurrence because the council has not created ongoing funding for such grants. The city solicited sponsorships to fund its own music and art series, WinonArts, and hired many local artists for gigs, but some local art organizations have complained the city’s fundraising competes with their own for a limited pool of donors.

Affordable housing, job creation, and the ability of local artists to support themselves could be part of the Arts and Cultural Plan, Gundersheimer suggested. “If we want arts and culture to be an active part of our community, how do we keep it alive?” he asked.

The city is currently seeking consultants to write the plan; the council is expected to hire by March 2020. Then, city staff and the consulting firm would launch public input sessions, surveys, and meetings with local arts groups before drafting a plan in early 2021.

Along with consultants, citizen committees played a major role in the creation of the 2007 comprehensive plan. The city is taking a different approach now. Like last year’s Parks Comprehensive Plan, the new Arts and Cultural Plan would be written by consultants working under city staff direction. While the city’s Fine Arts Commission would provide input, there would be no citizen committee specifically tasked with helping draft the plan.

Before the council voted this month to solicit consultants for the plan, City Council member George Borzyskowski asked Gundersheimer, “Is this something that you could do?” Gundersheimer said it wasn’t, noting that outside experts provide valuable perspective on how Winona compares to other communities and adding that he would play a role in guiding the consultants. Borzyskowski voted with the rest of the council to solicit consulting firms for the job.


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