The Winona band The Old Fashioneds will play a wintry outdoor show at Lake Lodge this Sunday. It is part of a new event series from the Winona Park and Recreation Department.
by CHRIS ROGERS
Now is the time to practice doing the twist in ice skates. Swing and old-school rock and roll are king again whenever Winona’s The Old Fashioneds take the stage. The group puts a new spin on obscure 1950s songs that could have been sock hop hits, but somehow never made it to the top of the charts, the band’s charismatic front woman, Sarah Johnson, explained. This weekend, the band will perform a free show at Lake Lodge, beside skating rinks on the lake and fire pits on shore. Johnson is still figuring out what to wear. “We could be warm; we might be cold. I really don’t know,” she said.
The show is a riff on Winona musician Mike Munson’s floating concert on Lake Winona last summer. Munson — who performs solo and happens to be in The Old Fashioneds, too — plugged in on a floating dock in the middle of East Lake and put on a show for listeners on shore and an armada of canoes, kayaks, fishing boats, paddle boats, and paddle boards bobbing around him. The floating concert went over gangbusters, and city of Winona Arts and Culture Coordinator Lee Gundersheimer wants to recreate it four times a year — winter, spring, summer, and fall — as part of a new arts-for-the-masses event series he is launching called WINONArts. “It was a uniquely Winona event,” Gundersheimer said of Munson and the Park and Recreation Department’s inaugural floating concert last July. Of course, it is a little hard to float on Lake Winona in February, but the Park and Recreation Department is offering free skate rentals, hot cocoa, s’mores and bonfires to roast them.
Under the WINONArts banner, Gundersheimer is working on hosting numerous other events throughout the year. WINONArts will glom onto the Park and Recreation Department’s existing program, Movies in the Park, and Gundersheimer is planning a series of outdoor dances — both dance performances for audiences to sit and watch and street dances for everyone to join in — he is calling Dance Plein Air. The Park and Recreation Department already hosts some dances in the parks.
Gundersheimer also hopes to continue his Arts in the Hall program — art events at city hall. He organized the first one last summer: a dramatic reading of “12 Angry Men” held at city hall and performed by a mix of local thespians and city officials. “I’m the old man just waiting to die,” Mayor Mark Peterson said of his character. The future events could be performances or art-gallery-type exhibits, Gundersheimer said.
Gundersheimer also hopes to put on bigger concerts at Levee Park. In 2013 and 2014, Gundersheimer helped organize the short-lived Live at the Levee concert series. Since then, the city has invested over $2.4 million in redesigning Main Street and part of Levee Park. Construction is expected to wrap up this spring. The main improvement to the park will be a new performance space at the former Wilkie site, and Gundersheimer plans to make use of it.
In 2016, the Winona City Council adopted a new branding message that described arts, outdoor recreation, and entrepreneurship as the three pillars of Winona’s identity as a city — things that would attract and retain residents and visitors. The creation of a new arts and culture coordinator and outdoor recreation coordinator positions in 2017 were signs of the council’s investment in that strategy. WINONArts is one concrete thing Gundersheimer is doing in the new position.
The Shakespeare-festival-managing-director-turned-city staffer explained his vision for WINONArts: “If arts and culture are going to be a focal point for the growth of Winona, at a certain point, we need to make sure the most accessible and widest variety of events are happening.” Shakespeare and Beethoven are great, but Winona should have creative events that cater to an even broader audience, and it should strive to have creative events happening year round, not just on a few weekends out of the year, he said. Many of Winona’s festival have changed their programming to produce more events throughout the year. The frequency of arts and culture events really makes a difference in convincing people to live in a city and stay there, Gundersheimer said. When cities have arts and culture events happening more than 200 days out of the year, it is the tipping point, he stated.
Gundersheimer added that he also hopes to use WINONArts to give local artists more opportunities, and to use events like Arts in the Hall to get non-artists involved. Hopefully getting city officials involved in putting on a theater production will make them appreciate artists more, and it might help them think outside the box, too, he said. “When you think creatively, you start to come up with solutions that people are actually proud of,” Gundersheimer explained.
How is it funded?
Gundersheimer said that the city itself is contributing just $3,500 to WINONArts’ over-$100,000 budget. To fund the series, Gundersheimer is hoping to secure $50,000 in sponsorships and donations, and another $50,000 in grant funding. Not all of that money has been secured yet. To augment those funds, Gundersheimer plans to use $3,500 in city funding, which the City Council allocated for Levee Park programming, and he aims to collect $1,500 in pass-the-hat donations from attendees. The $3,500 comes from the Park and Recreation Department budget, which is largely funded by local property taxes and by some user fees.
On the spending side of WINONArts budget, the floating concert series, Movies in the Park, Dance Plein Air, and Arts in the Hall would all get $3,400 to $15,500 a piece. The lion’s share is budgeted for concerts in Levee Park, where Gundersheimer has budgeted $40,000 for bringing in musicians and another $23,800 for equipment rentals, games, staffing, and marketing.
Does it compliment existing events, organizations?
Asked if he was working with existing festivals and arts organizations to produce WINONArts, Gundersheimer said he wants to incorporate as many of them as possible and has already talked with some about that possibility. He noted that many of the events will create gigs for local artists.
Will fundraising and grant writing for this city-led series compete with local arts organizations for limited philanthropic resources? Fundraising opportunities are not necessarily finite, Gundersheimer argued. “If you can create an excitement and arts and culture events that spur more growth in fundraising, it’s possible that certain types of programming will inspire more giving,” he stated. “While I am shaking the same money trees, I’m hoping it will be — at some point — a forest and not the same 12 trees,” he said.
The Old Fashioneds will perform a Not-So-Floating concert this Sunday at Lake Lodge in Winona, from 2-4 p.m. It is free.
On March 24, the city is planning to host a dramatic reading of a newly written play at the Masonic Temple. Keep reading the Winona Post for more details.
Upcoming event information may also be found on WINONArts’ Facebook page.