It Starts Here winner: Art Co-op

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Dreams of growing Princeton into a regional center of the arts are coming alive at a former feed-and-seed building in downtown Princeton.
The Central Minnesota Art Co-op at 108 Sixth Ave. S. has emerged from a pool of 14 applicants as the lone finalist in the “It Starts Here” program, an incentive program of the city of Princeton and the Princeton Chamber of Commerce designed to bring new business to vacant downtown property. Two other proposals were considered to be recipients under the incentive program, under which three packages could have been awarded. Cathleen Santa Lucia of Santa Lucia’s ice cream looked to expand with a take-and-bake pizza business, and Crystal Eller of Princeton looked to expand her Elk River-based Jungle Family Hair Salon.
“The Central Minnesota Art Co-op will offer a regional art facility that will anchor the start of a thriving art and culture community, enhance the business mix in downtown and serve as a destination to downtown Princeton,” said Princeton Community Development Director Carie Fuhrman.
Wendy Bursch, executive director of the Central Minnesota Art Co-op, sees the co-op as an organization that will bring artists together in one setting and play a role in those artists some day opening studios of their own at other locations in Princeton.
“We’re going to be the anchor that everything else can grow from,” Bursch said. “It has to start somewhere, and in our case, it starts here.”
As the finalist in the “It Starts Here” program – and pending final approval from the city’s economic development commission – the Central Minnesota Art Co-op will receive a $10,000 forgivable loan and business services donated by local business owners valued at an additional $10,000.
Bursch said she was working late at The Print Shop, a business she owns that is located adjacent to the co-op, when she received the news that the organization was named the “It Starts Here” finalist.
“Carie (Fuhrman) came upstairs and gave me the news. I was like, ‘Wow!’” Bursch said.
“I appreciated getting the support of all the people on the committee who thought we are worth investing in,” she said.
The next morning, Bursch found herself already at a business mentoring meeting, a requirement of receiving the program incentives.
The Co-op opened Feb. 1 and already has a gallery in the one-time Land O’ Lakes building at 108 Sixth Ave. S.
About 30 artists from Central Minnesota have paintings, photos, pottery and other art items for sale.
“It’s the best-kept secret in town,” Bursch said.
But the center isn’t a secret to artists. Artists and customers have gravitated to the co-op through word of mouth in the arts community, she said.
If the co-op stays at 108 Sixth Ave. S., the vision is to expand the center to include classrooms, studios and a room that could host community theater, poetry readings and music, such as coffee house performers, Bursch said.
She envisions an art market on the south side of the building, overlooking the former creamery building. The co-op already has plans for a luminary festival in the fall that Bursch said will be a celebration of art in lights. There are also plans for a music studio on the premises.
There is a real need for an art center in Princeton, Bursch said, and it’s a facility that can make Princeton a destination for artists across the region.
Bursch lives between Princeton and Milaca and has a 13-year-old daughter who is a talented artist. She said she knows firsthand how the ability to offer art classes can make the co-op an asset not only in Princeton, but in the region.
“I was trying to find advanced art classes for my daughter and ended up having to go to the Cities,” she said.
“Classes here resembled crafts more than they did fine art,” Bursch said.
That didn’t cut it for a family that has toured museums in Europe and makes a point to visit museums and art galleries when traveling to other states.
“We have a lot of little pieces, but wouldn’t it be cool if this small town brought the art community together?” Bursch asked.