FD fine arts come together: Collaboration

Choirs, symphony look forward

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter Blanden Memorial Art Museum Executive Director Eric Anderson browses some of the Iowa art on display in the museum’s west gallery.

For the arts in Fort Dodge, collaboration is key. As their seasons continue into the spring, the Fort Dodge Area Symphony, Choral Society and Fort Dodge Senior High a capella choir are looking forward to joining for a big concert in March.

“It’s going to be a big set of voices on stage,” said Symphony Conductor Joshua Barlage. “Fort Dodge just has a long history of musical excellence in the schools and in the community. Pulling these three groups together, the symphony, an adult and a student choir all together, it’s going to produce a fantastic concert.”

Ever since he came here four seasons ago, Barlage has been hoping to produce such a partnership.

It’s been a long time since this was done, said Choral Society Conductor Bruce Perry.

“I don’t think these organizations have done anything together for nearly a quarter century,” Perry said. “The last thing we did was Mendelssohn’s ‘Elijah,’ and I think that was the first year I conducted Choral Society. This is my 24th season. It was probably long overdue that we do something together.”

FDSH Choir Director Matt Drees said this is a great opportunity for his kids — not only to sing some “extremely high-quality choral literature,” but also to perform with a full orchestra.

“Most of the time, at the high school level, if you are looking at programming a masterwork, it is typically accompanied by piano,” Drees said. “Performing the music with the piano reduction still exposes the students to quality literature, but not in its truest form.”

Perry said he’s excited because of the concert’s “intergenerational aspect.”

“We have people probably 15, 16 years old through probably 80 years old working together for a common good,” he said. “As one who teaches many young singers, I think it’s an important lesson for them to see singing is a lifelong event.”

“It continues to really, really impress me how supportive this community is of the arts in general,” Barlage said. “The choral society, the Comedia players, there’s a ton of volunteer-based organizations in the Fort Dodge area.”

“The symphony is really a regional treasure. It’s unusual for a town the size of Fort Dodge to have a symphony of that caliber,” Perry said.

Fort Dodge is rare, Perry said. It has at least three choirs — the Choral Society, the Sonshine Singers, and the Harmony Brigade — plus the community college performing groups and high school groups.

“The Karl King band is fabulous, and there are at least three community theater groups in town,” he said. “It’s almost unheard of to have that saturation in a community of 25,000 people. In some ways this concert is a celebration of that art saturation through the community.”

Helping bring together arts groups, the Fort Dodge Fine Arts Association now has an executive director.

Shelly Bottorff is now filling the new position for the 32-year-old organization.

“I’m excited for it,” Bottorff said. “Creating a whole new job description, and what does it mean. I’m ready to get my hands dirty.”

The group’s mission is to foster creativity and celebrate life through the arts. The FDFA markets, advocates for, and collaborates with its 37 nonprofit members and eight supporting artists, as well as seeks to encourage creativity through the region.

The group has seen growth since January 2015, when it had 11 members, Bottorff said.

Bottorff said the FDFAA has been revamping its core mission and working on its processes and procedures.

“One of the main things I’m doing right now is just familiarizing myself with the members more,” she said. “Trying to go out and meet with them one on one, find out what their wants and needs are, and how we can better facilitate what they’d like to see happen next year.”

There are a great number of arts opportunities in town, she said.

“On average there’s 40 arts-related events here each month,” she said. “Whether it’s live music, or photography shows, plays, musicals.”

After a season of comedies, dramas and everything in between, Hawkeye Community Theatre drew crowds at the end of the year with its production of “A Christmas Story” — based on the famous movie featuring a 1940s kid’s quest to get a Red Ryder BB gun and his disappointment with the Orphan Annie decoder pin. In 2017 the theatre will celebrate its 60th year of productions in Fort Dodge.

Comedia Musica soared to new heights in 2016 with an ambitious performance of “Mary Poppins,” and looks to celebrate its 50th annual production this year.

“We knew it would be a huge undertaking to do that show, but we really wanted to bring Mary Poppins to the Fort Dodge audience,” said Comedia President Amy Porter. “It was a lot of work but it went off beautifully. I think we’re very proud of it.”

The cast was extremely large compared to other years’ average, Porter said — more than 50 people in the cast, including 9 to 11 kids.

The process of selecting a show for the big 50th anniversary is now ongoing.

“This year in particular I think we’ll be very sensitive to the fact that it is our 50th anniversary, and we’ll want to choose a show that represents our troop well,” Porter said.

But she’s not telling what that show might be just yet.

“We will likely know in February,” Porter said, “and make the announcement in March.”

Visual arts, too, are thriving. The Blanden Memorial Art Museum has stepped up its art education and outreach in 2016, said Director Eric Anderson.

“Last year we added the after-school programs and early out programs, and starting in January this month we’ve added one more weekday class called Clever Together Thursdays,” Anderson said. “It’s a morning class for a younger group.”

The morning class is for kids age 3 to 5 who would stay home during the day, he said.

For older students, there’s a new in-depth program called Blanden Art Academy.

“It’s a monthlong focus, where students come in once a week to work on a single project and get a deeper understanding or appreciation of art,” Anderson said.

The Blanden has also expanded its community focus program, which puts an art therapist together with adults with disabilities to create artwork. Groups meet at the museum and other locations.

“We expanded that last year; I think we reach about 2,000 adults with disabilities every month with that,” Anderson said.

In the coming year the museum is planning a juried show, Anderson said. Any living artist can submit work, and the department chair from Drake University will be in charge of picking the pieces to be displayed.

It’s the first juried show the Blanden has done since Anderson started here 2 1/2 years ago, he said.

“The museum has a rich history of having juried exhibits,” Anderson said. “This is the first one I’ve orchestrated.”

Both first-floor galleries of the museum will feature works by Daniel Rhodes this year, an artist born in Fort Dodge who studied under Grant Wood. Rhodes returned to Fort Dodge for five years where he worked as an artist and muralist.

“It will be a mixture of some of his more life-size ceramic works, some drawings he created and some black-and-white photographs that have never been displayed,” Anderson said, “from his tours of Asia.”