Grant to help transform former church into a creative center

Contributed photo
Art of the Lakes in Battle Lake received a $100,000 grant from the Blandin Foundation to revitalize the former church.

Art of the Lakes has received a $100,000 Blandin Foundation Leadership Boost Grant to develop a creative center in Battle Lake that uses the arts as an incubator for community involvement and regional economic development.

Leadership Boost Grants were launched to encourage Minnesotans living in rural and tribal communities to be visionary and creative as they move their communities forward after two years of snowballing challenges.  

“The last two years of complex crises have taken a toll on leaders across rural Minnesota,” said Sonja Merrild, director of rural grantmaking at Blandin Foundation. “In times like this, of great challenge and opportunity, the resilience and fortitude of rural people and places shines through. Yet, we recognize the critical need for more resources to move small communities from where they are to where they want to go.”  

More than 300 Letters of Interest were submitted for funding, far more than anticipated. Based on the type of requests received, Blandin Foundation opened three grant rounds for Community Planning, Capital Projects in small towns under 3,000 people, and Creative Placemaking. To better support the many strong requests, the total amount of funding available increased from $1 million to $5.5 million after Blandin Foundation’s board approved an additional $3 million in June and a $1.5 million grant was secured from Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies. 

“Rural and tribal places simply don’t get their fair share of funding and resources,” said Merrild. “When we see stats like only 5 percent of philanthropic dollars and 10 percent of federal small business loan funds go to rural, this creates resource roadblocks to future opportunity. While the leaky pipes intended to bring resources into rural communities need a complete overhaul, Leadership Boost Grants are one way we can spark energy and action toward sustainable rural futures.”  

Art of the Lakes was invited to submit a full application for a Creative Placemaking grant. 

Art of the Lakes (AOTL) is proposing to transform the former First Lutheran church/LACC building in Battle Lake into a rural arts center with the mission to use the arts to build connection, identity and economic growth within the Battle Lake community and surrounding region. Leading this project is a cohort consisting of three interested agencies—Art of the Lakes represented by Kristi Kuder, DanceBarn Collective represented by Molly Johnston, and owner and developer of this building, Bruce Fuhrman of RE/MAX Signature Properties.

Working from the existing space, AOTL proposes to reimagine and create two areas for supporting the various performing, visual, culinary, and literary art forms. The first area (lower level 1) will be in the form of a collaborative workspace such as a Makerspace. This space will be open to youth, adults, and entrepreneurs with access to maker equipment and tools such as 3D printers, laser cutters, heavy duty sewing machines, a glass fusing kiln, and stoves and ovens plus tools possibly for metalworking, fabric printing, papermaking, woodworking, and robotics. 

  The second area (upper level 2) will include space for the performing arts such as dance, storytelling, readings and music; and the wellness arts such as tai chi and yoga. These artforms are integral to supporting the health and well-being of the Battle Lake area residents and strengthening the connections that tie its community members together. This second area is also a desirable space for hosting symposiums, presentations, forums and panel discussions. AOTL believes this venue allows for programming where speakers and attendees from around the region can gather to address topics relevant to the rural arts scene. Battle Lake is centrally located and easily reached from Fargo/Moorhead and the Twin Cities where there’s an abundant source of artistic influences, and where many centers of research and agricultural industries are headquartered. 

“Options for participating in the arts are conditional due to the rural landscape, Minnesota’s winter climate, and the limited economic resources of many residents living in Lakes Country,” said Molly Johnston, DanceBarn Collective Co-Director. “The primary focus of this project is to use the arts to stimulate our region’s economy and to create easier access to creative opportunities for our residents.”

“We also have a wealth of talented artists calling Otter Tail County home and their network is another resource upon which we can draw from. As this venue develops, attendees traveling here for these events will help fuel our local economy by eating, sleeping, and enjoying the many excellent restaurants, lodging, and attractions our Lakes Country has to offer,” said Kristi Kuder, President of Art of the Lakes.

“Although AOTL plans to retain our prime gallery location on Lake Street, the funds received through this grant will help us furnish the space created by Bruce Fuhrman of RE/MAX Signature Properties and operate the center in its initial months,” said Kuder. “We plan to contribute additional AOTL funds to this project, as well as seek additional financial support through donations and fundraising efforts. This will provide us with the ability to establish the foundation for an Arts Center that can meet the current needs of our rural community and provide a blueprint for growth potential as our community’s needs change over time.”