Main menu


Dawson-Boyd Arts Association knows how to put on performances for crowds of all ages - West Central Tribune

featured image

DAWSON — On a Tuesday morning in September, otherwise like any other morning in Dawson, the air rang with laughter as audience members at the Memorial Auditorium took in the comedic stylings of Robert Post and his advice on “How to Survive Middle School.”

Post, of Columbus, Ohio, makes the audience laugh and some kids even audibly gasp when he catches imaginary balls thrown at him in a brown paper bag before turning it into literal confetti.

His show is a collection of lighthearted one-man sketches, interspersed with deeply honest video interviews with other middle school students and teachers about some of the issues, anxieties and concerns students might experience in middle school.

The show ends with a video of high school students talking directly to the audience about how they got through middle school, assuring all kids in attendance that they’ll get through it too. As proof of this concept, Post bravely shares his own middle school portrait.

Shows like this are what Luanne Fondell, performing arts director of the Dawson-Boyd Arts Association, describes as some of the most important work that the arts association does for the community.

Bringing the arts to western Minnesota

The Dawson-Boyd Arts Association is a nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening and inspiring its community by presenting a wide variety of visual and performing arts for all, not just students in the Dawson-Boyd School District.

In any given season, the association aims to have anywhere between six to eight different shows and performances. Over the years, that’s added up to well over 100 shows put on for the community of not quite 1,500 people.

Luanne Mem Aud.jpeg

Luanna Fondell is the head of the Dawson-Boyd Arts Association.

Contributed / Brooke Kern

Fondell has been the performing arts director for the Dawson-Boyd Arts Association and the Dawson-Boyd School District since December of 2000. She credits former elementary school principal Vern Stevens for being the original visionary behind what would eventually become the Dawson-Boyd Arts Association .

According to Fondell, Stevens pushed for having artist residencies in the school, aiming to have an artist to come in for two weeks and work with a single grade level and one art form.

“He built that up to the point where there were six artists, and every grade level had an artist,” she said.

Unfortunately, Stevens died before voters in a referendum approved the measure that would help build Memorial Auditorium and plant the seeds for the arts association.

“He was the visionary for what we do today,” Fondell said. “It’s an honor to have been the first person, but it’s on the shoulders of Vern Stevens, who was already bringing phenomenal (artists) from the cities. He knew all this was possible.”

“We also need to provide quality art experiences for people in western Minnesota,” Fondell said, adding that to see similar exhibitions it’s a choice between a three-hour drive to Minneapolis, three hours to Fargo, North Dakota, and two hours to Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

All styles of performance on display

Fondell stressed that the arts association prides itself on hosting an eclectic mix of showcases.

Previous performers have included the Hornheads, a horn group that was part of Prince’s session band from 1991 to 2001.

“To us that’s an example of ‘How did you find them?!’” Fondell said.

She recalled that the Hornheads had been in Montevideo a couple of years before Dawson-Boyd Arts booked them, but she didn’t know that at the time.

“I saw (them) at a showcase in Minneapolis, three years ago,” she said. Fondell wanted to book the group at that time, but then the pandemic happened. “We could have done it virtually,” she said, “but I thought this has to be in person. … Let’s hold out and do it.”

World-renowned violinist Midori, who performed in Dawson in 2007, is another example. She chose the Dawson-Boyd Arts Association as part of her Partners in Performance program, which spreads chamber music in rural communities.

“We completely sold out,” Fondell said of the concert. “People came from Minneapolis saying ‘We paid more in gas than we did for our ticket.’ I told them we had to keep tickets affordable for our own community.”

However, Fondell said while it’s nice to do one-off events and shows, the most satisfying experience is watching things build on each other and being a part of events in which artists directly reach out to the community or simply come back.

The money raised from the Midori concert allowed the arts association to do deeper and richer work specifically with the strings program in the school district. Dawson-Boyd Schools is home to one of only eight three-level string programs in Minnesota.

Fondell credits money from grants, a strong 10-member volunteer board of directors, support from the community businesses and overall enthusiastic support from members of the community for the arts association’s success, which has allowed for exquisite showcases and exhibitions in west central Minnesota.

“I always say we can use Facebook, we can do posters, we can do newspaper ads, we can do radio … (but) the single most important thing is if someone calls you and says ‘Hey, we’re going to the show. You want to come along?’” Fondell said. “We’ve seen carloads of people from Appleton, Montevideo, Canby, Granite Falls and all these communities that have slowly come to expect a season here.”