Our View: Art center takes first steps to grow audience | Our View

We hope the Rochester Art Center‘s leadership sincerely meant it when they said at Wednesday’s annual meeting that the organization has to be more welcoming to the community at large.

The art center, said board member Brian Austin, can’t be “just for the art cognoscenti.”

For too long, the art center has catered to a relatively small segment of the population. Maybe that’s the way it always is with art centers that focus on contemporary art. But it’s now clear that, for the revenue-strapped Rochester Art Center, the focus has to be much larger if the organization is to survive.

At the annual meeting, where the art center’s dire financial situation was laid bare — or mostly laid bare, with too few details about what went wrong last year — officials outlined the way forward for the organization that includes outreach, accessibility, open doors and, perhaps most important, a willingness to listen to what the community wants.

“We need to understand who we are talking to when we present art in Rochester, Minn.,” Austin said. The community is changing, he said, and the art center will have to change with it.

This implies the art center hasn’t kept up with the community’s changing tastes. That’s not quite it. For years, the art center has aimed at an audience that’s too narrow, and it’s been detached from the wider community that craves more interaction and involvement with it.

Former director Shannon Fitzgerald told the Star Tribune last month that she believes the center is “absolutely critical to the whole state of Minnesota.” Maybe there was more to the quote than that, but the art center first of all has to connect with a Rochester audience, both artists and art lovers, before it worries about being an “absolutely critical” state institution.

Clearly, there’s work to do in breaking down barriers with the local community and getting…

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