Since THELMA’S grand re-opening celebration last September, Fond du Lac’s downtown arts center has never been busier. Thousands of people have enjoyed the concerts, art exhibits, gatherings and special events, and the free tours. I have enjoyed the wide-eyed stares and exclamations of “I can’t believe this is in Fond du Lac!” We’ve only been open a few months so everything is still new and exciting, but I remain mindful that the seeds for today’s success were planted with a unique collaboration.
Five years ago when Downtown Fond du Lac Partnership executive director Amy Hansen and I posed the concept of an Arts & Entertainment District… skepticism ensued.
Amy and I were adamant that a rejuvenated downtown centered around the arts would create an environment that would be good for business, good for culture, good for the arts, good for our families, good for tourism. We wanted a downtown with a cool vibe that would be attractive to visitors, college students, community members, businesses, and artists.
This crazy notion of an Arts & Entertainment District began to be realized when Commonwealth Development announced in 2011 they were re-purposing Trinity Emanuel Lutheran church into a destination dining facility along with an affordable housing project for artists. The City of Fond du Lac pitched in for a much needed parking lot, and it also didn’t hurt that this exciting development was taking place in an art center’s backyard.
Flash forward to September 2013 and downtown Fond du Lac now has a vibrant new restaurant, Trinity Hall, along with the newly renovated and expanded Thelma Sadoff Center for the Arts (THELMA). THELMA is a premier venue providing the community with unprecedented access to the arts. Early art exhibits include work featured from the Guggenheim, MOMA, and the Picasso studio in Paris. Concerts have ranged from classical to country, providing a wide array of choices for music lovers. Having nationally prominent performers such as Rachel Barton Pine and Montgomery Gentry, along with artists from Paris, New York, the Twin Cities, and the DC area certainly give credibility to the statement that Fond du Lac is a regional arts destination centered in a unique urban environment.
A perfect way to experience our burgeoning downtown is to hang at THELMA on Thursday night and have a drink in the beautiful art deco Fountain City Room, sample a great meal served up and delivered from Trinity Hall, and visit THELMA’s Contemporary Wing where you can experience the hyper-reality of twin cities artist Pamela Valfer’s drawings and the surreal photos of French photographer Maia Flore. Maia’s work has been reviewed in the New Yorker and featured on the cover of Le Monde. Yes, I just name dropped.
But perhaps nothing else sells our venue and the downtown more than the music scene. THELMA rolls out an ambitious Winter/Spring season leading with Reverend Raven & the Chain Smokin’ Altar boys January 17, Davina & the Vagabonds February 15, and February 28 the chamber rock trio Nineteen Thirteen. Nineteen Thirteen is led by one of the founding members of the Violent Femmes – Victor Delorenzo.
Definite name” droppage” but only to highlight how cool things are happening in our town. You can check out in greater detail THELMA’s upcoming performance season with Jacqui Corsi’s entertainment schedule elsewhere in this happening publication. Speaking of which, I do hope you enjoy The Scene. A very cool way of finding out all the amazing things that are going on in your backyard, Fond du Lac.
Kevin Miller is the executive director of Thelma Sadoff Center for the Arts in downtown Fond du Lac.