Community Builder: Shannon Dallenbach Durbin

Community Builder: Shannon Dallenbach Durbin: ArtHaus & Creative Community

By Aryn Henning Nichols • Originally published in the Fall 2017 Inspire(d)

“I got this.”

It’s a phrase Shannon Dallenbach Durbin has found herself saying a lot. Usually it’s about a job or a project that will bring artists, kids, and/or creativity together.

“Computers can do so much now. They can replace manual labor and intelligence,” she says. “But creativity can’t be replaced. It’s what humans have… and we don’t nurture it enough.”

Fostering a creative community started early for Shannon.

“I always wished I had that one best friend,” she says, “But instead I had a bunch of friends from a bunch of different groups. And maybe that’s because of my personality – I like almost everyone.”

She grew up in Arlington, Iowa, and went to school at Starmont, where she was active in pretty much every activity possible: musicals, choir, saxophone, piano, art, dance, tae kwon do (she’s got a black belt!), future homemakers, future business leaders, chess, drama, yearbook, quiz bowl… you get the idea.

“I really wanted to experience everything,” she says. “And nothing about that has really changed.”

In high school, she was also on what she called a “LOVE mission.”

“It was my goal to make sure that no one felt unloved,” she says. “I wrote lots of letters to random classmates sharing what I liked about them, I went to graduation parties I was afraid wouldn’t have many attenders, and I bought anonymous gifts for people.”

After an eighth grade trip to the Holocaust Museum, she came across a Dalai Lama quote: “It is not enough to have compassion, you must act.” This became Shannon’s motto, and even drove her college choice, the University of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minnesota, because of the school’s strong emphasis on Social Justice. Shannon got a degree in art education, then moved back to Starmont to teach high school art.

It was a great job, just not quite the right fit.

“I realized I loved organizing curriculum but teaching wasn’t my favorite,” she says.

So Shannon took an ad design job at a newspaper in Elkader, but shortly after she started, most of the folks in her office left to start another newspaper. Shannon stayed on. “This newspaper had been around for decades and I really didn’t want to see it end,” she says. The owners of the newspaper said, “You got this?”

“I had no idea what I was doing, but I still said, ‘Sure! I can do this!’” Shannon started running the place, hiring writers and designers – even her husband, Bryce.

It’s this can-do attitude that has helped Shannon grow creative communities across Northeast Iowa. Shannon and Bryce moved to Elkader in 2008, where they had their two sons, Lincoln and Felix (now 8- and 3-years-old). She ran the newspaper for two and a half years. Next up was a two-year stint with AmeriCorps, then two years running a retail shop in Elkader called Whimsy Market, while also volunteering with the Elkader Main Street Committee, and helping to organize the first Art in the Park in Elkader.

Then she landed a job that brought all her passions to one place: program coordinator for the Clayton County Extension office in Elkader. Her work focused on planning community events and youth programs like a makers’ space, lego robotics, youth after-school clubs, and more.

“I loved that job so much,” Shannon says. It was hard to conceive of leaving, but in 2016 a job opportunity arose: Executive Director at ArtHaus in Decorah.

“I basically said, ‘If you can make this job a lot like my current job, then I’m your gal,’” she says. The board was excited to have Shannon’s background in the arts, business-ownership, kids, and the region as a whole. They offered her the job, and she accepted.

“There is a great group of people on the board, and they give me the flexibility and freedom to do what I think will work best for ArtHaus,” she says.

That means promoting cool classes that are all about community. Folks can come together for a casual night of subversive cross-stitching, or head in for open studio time or join in on a singing or writing workshop.

“I want to make it easier for people to make their own art,” she says. “ And I want to make the arts community accessible for everyone.”

“I think I found my groove,” she says. “I love partnering with other groups to make things happen and reach sustainability,” she says. “ Then it’s my turn to say, ‘You got this.’”

Community Builders: Red Roxy

Community Builders: Roxanne Schnitzler & Jessica Rediske: Red-Roxy Quilt Co.

By Kristine Jepsen • Originally published in the Fall 2017 Inspire(d)

When Roxanne Schnitzler and Jessica Rediske opened Red-Roxy Quilt Co. on Water Street in 2013, mother and daughter were already pretty well known around town. Roxanne was an administrator in the Winneshiek County Sheriff’s Office, and Jessica was a loan officer at Viking State Bank, both based in Decorah.

“But who really likes to go to the bank?” Jessica says with a questioning look. “Or to jail?!” adds Roxanne. “This business is a different ball game: People are so happy to be here,” Roxanne concludes.

Crafting is, one might argue, in their DNA. Roxanne has served as clothing superintendent for the local 4-H chapter since her own kids were in the club. Today, machine embroidery is her strong suit (she stitched the logo tapestry that greets visitors at the Red-Roxy checkout). Jessica, for her part, is a natural problem-solver and quickly took up the Bernina sewing machine repair and warranty work that came with the business. They divide the required management between them – more amicably than either imagined.

“We didn’t really know how it would go, to be honest,” says Jessica, whose day starts early with the milking of 75 registered Holsteins on her family’s farm. “What’s surprised us most is how diverse the quilting community is, right here in our rural town.” One of the first of Red-Roxy’s many ongoing classes, exploring “100 Modern Quilt Blocks,” drew 36 people, ranging in age from 21 to 85.

This community of quilters and ‘sewists,’ they say, are part forager, part engineer, and all artist. Even though Red-Roxy stocks 3,000 bolts of fabric, folks know that when any given batik or double gauze or true-blue cotton is gone, it’s gone – as in, perhaps not even available from the manufacturer – and they pore over them with the precision of gem buyers, piecing together just the right combination that will make their next project shine.

Jessica and Roxanne decide which of these fabrics to buy a year or more in advance, often at huge market shows that feature thousands of designers and vendors, all vying to get their limited-time wares out on shelves.

“Our store trademark has become the bright and modern,” Roxanne says. One of her current favorites features fluorescent cats. “And we’ve learned to make our buys together to get the other’s opinion on how it fits the year’s craft trends or palettes. Otherwise, something will show up and we’ll cringe and point fingers at each other: ‘Did you order that?’”

Then there’s the magic of bringing a quilt, wall-hanging, or piece of clothing to life, full of angles, measurement, cutting, and of course, sewing. Red-Roxy sells kits of pre-cut fabrics, ready to be stitched into blocks, or staff can advise on how fabrics will (or won’t!) work together in a pattern.

True to the nature of ‘patchworking,’ Red-Roxy is a stop on the All Iowa Shop Hop each June, in which crafters get access to exclusive fabrics and discounts as they pick a little here, a little there from the circuit of nearly 100 stores.

 Red-Roxy also contributes to “Row by Row,” an international event each June through September. Central organizers choose a theme each year (2017 was “On the Go!”), and shops design and cut unique kits that comprise one row of quilt blocks. The first crafter in each store to complete eight rows, each representing a different store’s local flare, wins that store’s Row by Row prize: a valuable bundle of ‘fat quarters’ (quarter yards of fabric).

But Jessica and Roxanne say quilters’ true colors come flying out in the store’s dedicated craft retreats, winter and summer, as well as “Fridays After Close” (FAC for short), 5pm to midnight, once a month. The adult version of a lock-in, these retreats allow crafters to bring their current project and machine and just dial in for hours.

“We feed them, and we break up the frenzy with games and other fun stuff,” Roxanne says. “It’s so fun to see the talent in this community.”

Community Builder: Adam Wiltgen

Community Builder: Adam Wiltgen: Program Director, Lanesboro Arts

By Sara Friedl-Putnam • Originally published in the Fall 2017 Inspire(d)

There’s some serious pep in Adam Wiltgen’s step as he leads an impromptu tour of the arts campus in Lanesboro, a small, but vibrant, community in Southeast Minnesota.

A quick stop at Gateway Park (decorated with colorful string “surprise sculptures” made by local kids) is followed by a pop-in tour of the historic St. Mane Theatre and, finally, the Lanesboro Arts Gallery, which showcases the work of talented local artists.

Adam, program director of Lanesboro Arts, a multidisciplinary arts organization engaged in community development, is clearly proud of the prominent role that art plays in Lanesboro, and is thrilled to talk about the community’s local arts program and his role in shaping it.

“I always wanted to work in public and community-based art and make an impact on the culture of a town, to use the arts as a way to bring people together and build community,” says Adam during a brief stop at his neatly organized office above the gallery. “And as a Southeast Minnesota native, Lanesboro has always been on my radar.”

It just took a while for him to find his way back to the area. After earning a bachelor’s degree in music business and entrepreneurship at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota in 2008, Adam held a variety of arts-related positions. Stints as station manager at 89.1 KPVL out of Postville and Decorah, Iowa, and store manager of the Winona Mister Groovys store were followed by a few other positions, including box office manager and then assistant managing director at his alma mater’s Performance Center. In June 2015 – on the day of the organization’s popular Art in the Park festival, no less – Adam joined the staff of Lanesboro Arts.

“What excites and energizes me about my job is the community engagement,” he says. “Each day I have many opportunities to work with business owners and other community members to improve our community. Collaboration is essential in a small town, and honestly that’s where the real fun lies as well.”

The Smithsonian’s acclaimed Water/Ways traveling exhibit, displayed in Lanesboro last winter, exemplifies the collaborative effort that has put (and kept) Lanesboro on the map regionally and nationally. The town was one of only six across Minnesota picked for the exhibit, and, with a population of 750, it was by far the smallest. “When you work on something so long, it’s almost magical to see it actually happen,” says Adam, who, as project lead, collaborated with numerous nonprofits to bring the exhibit to town. “That project was very impactful for Lanesboro – in addition to bringing the town lots of attention, it created a platform to have a sustained dialog on water issues.

In 2016 Adam was awarded a fellowship from the McKnight Foundation to travel to Austria for the Salzburg Global Forum for Young Cultural Innovators. There he met dozens of other young arts leaders, all of whom shared their successes and challenges in using art and culture to move communities forward. He came away from the weeklong event both energized and optimistic about Lanesboro’s collaborative, asset-based approach to community building.

“From our ongoing artist residency program to the new community mural on the back of the St. Mane Theatre, the arts contribute greatly to the vitality of this place,” says Adam. “I feel really good about the future of this organization and this town, and that’s a great feeling to have.”