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The Phipps Center for the Arts marks 20th anniversary

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The Phipps Center for the Arts is in the midst of its 20th season and is pausing only briefly to look back before moving on into another decade of arts and entertainment.

Much of the work that has gone on at The Phipps over the last 20 years is showcased in a new exhibit in the Galleries. It includes costumes, props and photographs of many of the Phipps productions over the last 20 years as well as displays on the center's music and visuals arts programs.

The Phipps Center was dedicated and officially opened in March 1983. The idea of a cultural center for the Hudson area was the brainchild of the Phipps Foundation Board of Directors and the Valley Arts Guild, a dedicated group of arts enthusiasts who founded the Valley Arts Guild. Since the mid-1960s, the guild had been staging theatrical performances and promoting the arts in the Hudson area from its Fourth Street church turned theater near Willow River Elementary School.

Catherine Johnson, a member and actor with the guild, remembers meetings of foundation representatives and guild members about the establishment of a venue in Hudson for the performing and visual arts. She recalled meetings at the Hudson House with Jack and June Erdman, Edrys and John Heywood, Fred and Thelma Nagel, Jim Burnley, the Gwins and others about their vision for a center like The Phipps.

"It seemed like a very grand idea but they just went ahead and did it. That's how The Phipps got built and how it keeps going, with people who believe in it."

The Phipps Foundation first purchased the Elks Lodge on Locust Street to serve as the nucleus of the cultural center. Ground was broken for the new center, at First and Locust streets, in October 1981. The first board of directors for The Phipps Center included several guild members, many of whom attended the reception Friday night of the 20th anniversary exhibit.

In 1993, The Phipps Center expanded with an addition that added three permanent galleries, the Black Box Theater, new music and dance studio space.

Phipps Executive Director John Potter has been at his job for 18 years. Potter believes The Phipps' success over the years has grown directly out of the passion so many in the community have for its mission.

"Every year we try to do more and to raise the quality of what we are doing, to do things better or try a new approach. It is part of the legacy of the center and it is a great credit to the volunteers who are at the heart of this organization that we continue to do it year after year," said Potter.

Potter said that when The Phipps opened, the Chimera Theater in the Twin Cities was considered the most respected community theater in the region and a model for The Phipps. But the Chimera folded after 15 seasons and The Phipps goes on. Potter said the Phipps board of directors realized that the center needed to grow, diversify and change in order to be viable and strong.

"Our diversity gives us strength. It is a challenge but we are lucky to be an arts center, not just a theater or a gallery or a music venue," said Potter. "Each area gains strength from the other."

Arts education at The Phipps Center has also grown over the last 20 years. Potter says the program has grown "organically" over the years. "There was no master plan. Instructors have come to us with class suggestions, students have asked for classes on subjects that interest them. The summer art camps and the new musical theater camp have been in response to requests and suggestions from interested people. It has been a great boon to the center over the last several years, drawing students from throughout the area."

Potter said classes often reflect trends. The center has offered yoga classes off and on over the past 20 years but it has only been recently that enrollment has increased as yoga's popularity has caught on."

Potter says the pottery program is a "wild success" and a good example of the impact the center can have. When potter Sharon Graham was relocating her studio, the center offered her a workspace and the opportunity to teach classes. Graham has since moved on but the program has continued to thrive.

When The Phipps Center opened in 1983 there was one dance instructor. Today there are seven dance instructors teaching a variety of styles from tap and ballet to ballroom and Middle Eastern dance.

Looking to the future

When asked what the future holds, Potter says it has already begun. He believes the successful collaboration between The Phipps Center and the new Hudson Hospital on the healing arts program is a good example of community outreach that benefits everyone. The program involves more than 100 original pieces of art by more than 20 area artists. The works are hung and incorporated throughout the new health campus.

Potter believes similar collaborations will take place in Hudson and with other communities throughout the area in the coming years.

According to Potter, the success of The Phipps Center over the past two decades can be attributed the talent, commitment and passion of the people who have worked and volunteered there over the years.

"Even in this beautiful, multi-million dollar facility, it is an ongoing, grassroots effort that keeps things going and growing. Throughout our 20 years there consistently have been people from all parts of the community who have dedicated themselves to the center's programs. Their passion has brought us to this point and will continue to be at the heart of The Phipps Center."

Meg Heaton can be reached at mheaton@rivertowns.net.

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Meg Heaton
Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
(715) 808-8604
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