Fine arts are thriving in Fort Dodge

The Fort Dodge Fine Arts Association is growing and expanding its reach. With 35 members, seven supporting artists and 18 patrons, our audience and supporters are increasing.

Three years ago, there were 11 members. The Fort Dodge Fine Arts Association board realized that there was a myriad of arts activities in the region, but that most people didn’t know they existed. Susan Ahlers Leman, president of the board, approached Randy Kuhlman, chief executive officer of the Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way, to explore ways they could partner. The arts play a strong role in economic development and a community’s quality of life. They attract and retain workers, families and businesses. They provide enjoyment for audiences and also provide opportunities for individuals within a community to participate in the arts.

The Community Foundation’s board of directors saw this as a win/win opportunity. Its mission is to serve as a catalyst for charitable giving — developing charitable resources to support important community programs, services and projects that will benefit the public good, advance economic vitality and improve the quality of life of all citizens, families and youth in Fort Dodge, Webster County and northwest-central Iowa. The Fort Dodge Fine Arts Association fits strongly within its mission.

The Community Foundation agreed to dedicate an employee and office space to support the Fort Dodge Fine Arts Association. Improved communication, scheduling, awareness and collaboration between members followed. New members joined after seeing the benefit of becoming a member, having their events publicized and the benefit of working with other artists.

The FDFAA board decided it needed to develop a strategic plan for the organization, and hired Paul Ferrone, a consultant who has worked in the fine arts arena for decades, to work with the board to develop a plan. A plan was created and approved, with step-by-step goals and benchmarks identified. One of the goals was to hire an executive director. I was hired and began working in this role on Jan. 1. The Community Foundation and its employee will continue its role in the Fort Dodge Fine Arts Association. By having an executive director, it allows the organization to have more face-to-face meetings with members, explore additional funding opportunities and develop new programs and events for its members and region.

The arts have been a part of my life since taking piano lessons at the age of 3. I graduated from the University of South Dakota with a degree in music education and later earned a Certificate in Coach Accompanying from the University of Minnesota. In the past, I have taught middle school and high school choir and am currently teaching vocal and piano through my business, Shelly’s Music Studio, which has been active for 17 years.

My experience also encompasses the performing arts. I have performed in more than a dozen musical theatre and opera productions, which include “The Pirates of Penzance,” “Cosi Fan Tutti,” “Madame Butterfly,” “Pump Boys and Dinettes” and “Little Shop of Horrors.” I have also performed in several bands, including Vinyl, Wheelhouse and currently Short n Scruffy and have performed throughout the state and region, recording with several local musicians.

I have studied piano for 34 years and accompany locally for Sonshine Singers, St. Edmond, Fort Dodge Senior High, Comedia Musica Players, Manson Jr. and Sr. High Schools as well as Stage Door Productions. Other arts involvement includes serving as president of the board of directors for Stage Door Productions and serving as accompanist and music director across the United States for the Broadway Dreams Foundation.

Northwest central Iowa has many arts-related groups and we are all within a 30-minute drive of all of them. Just think of living in a larger metropolitan area, where you would easily drive 30 minutes to attend an event. We have many of the same events, at lower admission prices, right here in our region. My goal is to increase awareness of all that is going on — there truly is something for everyone.

According to Wikipedia: “The arts represent an outlet of expression that is usually influenced by culture and which in turn helps to change culture. As such, the arts are a physical manifestation of the internal creative impulse.”

Arts include:

• Literature — Poetry, novels and short stories and epics;

• Performing arts — Music, dance and theater;

• Culinary arts — Baking, chocolatiering and winemaking;

• Media — Photography and cinematography and

• Visual arts — Drawing, painting, ceramics and sculpting.

Some art forms combine a visual element with performance (e.g., film) and the written word (e.g., comics). From prehistoric cave paintings to modern day films, art serves as a vessel for storytelling and conveying humankind’s relationship with its environment.

As such, the arts hold something for every single person in our region and we are dedicated to bringing many different forms of art to the forefront so that all our communities can enjoy them.

The Fort Dodge Fine Arts Association is made up of many different genres:

• Seven vocal music ensembles

• Six instrumental ensembles

• Four theater groups

• Four arts supporters

• Four groups that organize opportunities for learning and creating

• Three historical groups

• Three food and beverage businesses

• Three churches

• Three museums

• Two dance companies

• On conservation group

• One sculpture group

My goals for the next year are:

1. Strive to work with our local officials and the community to educate the importance of and bring more awareness to the arts in Fort Dodge.

2. Continue to work on the FDFAA Performing Arts series, specifically the Doo Wop Project happening this spring.

3. Personally meet with all of our members and potential members to find out how to meet their needs and how the FDFAA can help facilitate those wants and needs both in Fort Dodge and surrounding communities.

4. Create and organize more art opportunities in Fort Dodge like the piano painting project and a few more to be revealed in the near future.

We encourage you to visit our website, fdfineartsassociation.org. If you would like to be included on our weekly email newsletter distribution that lists upcoming events for the next two weeks as well as a listing of the events for the year, please contact Amy Bruno at amy@fd-foundation.org or 573-3180.

My contact information is fdfinearts@gmail.com, 570-7807 if you have ideas or questions about the Fort Dodge Fine Arts.

Shelly Bottorff is executive director of the Fort Dodge Fine Arts Association.