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BY MICHELLE MIRON, Editor - The Forest Lake Area Lowdown

WYOMING — Mayor Eric Peterson has a vision, and it calls for creating an area of the city that’s a destination for creative types and people who like to buy their wares.

Helping that vision along is a milestone met last month by two-year-old local arts collaborative Wyoming Area Creative Arts Community — nonprofit status that will allow it to receive tax-deductible contributions.

A Midsummer Night's Art Show at the future (hopefully) art center in Wyoming, MN on July 24th, 2014.Now the group has its eye on buying its own space‚ the former Spirit & Praise Pentecostal Church at 5521 Viking Blvd.  Because the church has outgrown the space and moved to 24135 Greenway Rd., its leaders are willing to let the group use the 80-some-year-old building while it raises money toward the $175,000 price tag. A land contract isn’t in the cards, so the WACAC plans to dig in now to raise a $60,000 down payment and hopefully “just a little more” to take care of the first two years’ operating expenses.
 
“We were waiting and waiting and hadn’t heard anything, then last month a whole bunch started happening,” Peterson noted of the group’s 501(c)(3) status. “Now we’re able to start talking to some bigger companies.  If we want people to
contribute we actually have to show we’re doing something, so all of a sudden everything is coming together.”
 
The painter and graphic artist who’s also WACAC chairman is excited about possibilities for the 3,500-square-foot wooden building because it already offers classroom space, a kitchen for culinary arts and a sanctuary area (sans pews) for
performances, with no signicant renovations needed.
 
The church also happens to be aesthetically pleasing, with elements original to its 1930s founding that include stained glass windows from Germany.  
 
Peterson is optimistic about i nancial support from both major area employers and private donors who have already backed WACAC activities. Wyoming nonprofits often enjoy backing from both the city’s large industrial base (Polaris Industries Inc., Rosenbauer America, Hallberg Marine, Sunrise Fiberglass LLC, etc.) and its several small, community-friendly businesses, he said.
 
“We’ve been getting just tremendous help,” he said, pointing to local businesses including Keys Cafe & Bakery, the Village Inn, Casey’s General Store, h e Nesting Grounds and Honsa-Binder Printing Inc. “We have one anonymous donor who’s just been phenomenal for us. If we just mention (a need) in passing, all of a sudden it shows up for us.”
 
The group applied for nonproi t status last fall at er the church became available, then the application process was expedited after Candidate for House 32B Laurie Warner (DFL-32B) attended a WACAC meeting in June.
 
Since its founding two years ago, Peterson noted, the group of about 25 paying members has primarily held its monthly gatherings and performances at local coffee shop the Nesting Grounds.
 
He got the idea for the group during his first mayoral campaign when he began stumbling across other creative types. He was soon joined by local writer Wendy Hazzard.
 
“You can spot another artist a mile away,” Peterson noted.  “I realized they’re everywhere in this town, and a lot in Chisago County, period. We i gured it was a good time to do something, and organized our first meeting.”
 
Why the concentration of artists? His theory is they move to the area for the reasonably priced real estate that i ts their often modest incomes. He called Wyoming taxes “a little high” but said affordable places to live are widely available there.
 
 
The former real estate broker may know of which he speaks, though he now works primarily as a graphic artist specializing in website production.
 
He’s hoping the new arts center — which is as yet unnamed will draw from at least a 35-mile area radius, focusing as much on performing arts as visual arts, working cooperatively with the East Central Regional Arts Council and forming partnerships with Forest Lake and Chisago schools in support of young artists.
 
Initially, staf will remain all volunteer, he said.  While less-creative thinkers may have trouble imagining Wyoming as an arts Mecca right now, Peterson said the same was once true of Uptown Minneapolis. Such rebirth is a topic he’s particularly interested in as mayor.  “(Uptown) first started as a cheap-rent area, and you could find places for a studio there,” he noted. “Little galleries started popping up and all of a sudden it was the place to be … and now artists can’t
afford to live there anymore so they’re moving on. But it used to be a working-class neighborhood.”
 
He also pointed to the 2005 book “Bright Stars: Charting the Impact of the Arts in Rural Minnesota” based on a McKnight Foundation study highlighting communities that have reinvented themselves via arts and artists.
 
“You start changing the focus on how you’re going to improve your community, the environment and economic growth and sometimes you just turn toward a different model,” he said.
 
“Wyoming doesn’t have a downtown; it’s never had anything really there where people can go shop. But if we can start focusing more on the arts, I think it could be a destination.”  
 
At press time Peterson declined to estimate a timeline for arts center funding since he had yet to approach the town’s major employers.  “But I think reactions are going to be really good,” he said.  “We’ve been doing stuf kind-of quietly for a long time, and we seem to be getting a lot more recognition and support from people.
 
Our artists are pumped — a lot of them never thought it would come around this fast.”