The Detroit Lakes Arts Community’s Vision for the Future

Every community has some connection to art.

“Art Makes Art”

Every community has some connection to art. Whether it’s the local elementary school children fingerpainting in art class or a Broadway-caliber musical performance or a teenager scratching poems into the back of their notebook in the middle of a boring geometry lesson (no offense to geometry teachers), art is present in each of our lives, every day, in some form. Despite the constant interaction with and dependence on arts, many do not know much about their local arts communities. When I connected with some of the leaders in the Detroit Lakes arts community, I realized just how disconnected many communities are from the people who bring them joy throughout their lives: theater performers, musicians, painters, or even woodcarvers or graphic designers. In the past year, those involved in the Detroit Lakes art scene have been bridging that divide between the arts and the rest of the community through the Arts & Culture Commission in partnership with the City and the Chamber of Commerce, as well as through increasing local art projects like the utility wrap project and some new city murals. Read on to learn about what the Detroit Lakes arts community is currently up to, what they believe the future holds, why art is so important to the area, and more!

The State of the Arts

Since the Arts & Culture Commission was established in January 2022, the arts have been at the forefront of many minds in the Detroit Lakes Community. Whether it is public sculptures, a classroom art project, or a new theatre performance, art is making a place for itself more than ever before in the Lakes Area. The Arts & Culture Commission was created in order to “advise the City Council on the development of arts and cultural activities, organizations, and facilities in Detroit Lakes,” according to the Commission’s Ordinance.

Amy Stearns, Chair of the Commission and Executive Director of Project 412, noted that more and more people are getting interested in art again after COVID.

“One of the ‘blessings’ of COVID is that when everyone had to stay home… a lot of people were rediscovering some of their favorite hobbies from when they were younger, or they took some online painting classes or guitar lessons or whatever it may have been,” Stearns said. “I think that has offered a bit more of a resurgence in people wanting to do art themselves and maybe even more of an appreciation of art than before.”

This new resurgence of interest in art can be seen all across DL in a variety of forms. Two of the most recent art projects in Detroit Lakes are a utility box wrap project and a mural project, both of which are exciting additions to the city’s art landscape.

But though the Arts & Culture Commission is bringing arts to the attention of the public more often, the arts in Detroit Lakes have been strong for years. Notable local artist Hans Gilsdorf, whose work is featured all throughout the city, and his wife Mary Beth have lived in Detroit Lakes since 1999 and have seen the way the community embraces art.

Local Artist Hans Gilsdorf created this “Laker Ripple Effect” mural for Detroit Lakes High School.
Photo By Hans Gilsdorf

“The cool thing about DL is that it’s very inclusive. We always have people wanting to be involved. Over the years with different projects, what we found is a lot of these crazy ideas that we propose get embraced so quickly by the local community and businesses in the city,” Hans said.

After being so cooped up during COVID, many locals are seeing the resurgence of arts and culture events as an opportunity to be together again. Chris Henwood, member of the Arts & Culture Commission and Creative Director at Lakeshirts, emphasized this.

“There’s a big social aspect of it for the locals,” Henwood said. “It’s a chance for us to get out and see each other every now and then, in addition to bringing that outside tourist influence in. It’s an opportunity for us to get together and communicate and just be around each other, as well as see great art and great performances.”

This Wolly Mammoth project, created by Zach Shumack and funded by Project 412, was installed in February ‘23 at Detroit Mountain. Photo By Hans Gilsdorf

The State of the Arts

While a lot of cool things have been going on with the arts in Detroit Lakes for years, the ultimate goal with the Arts & Culture Commission, and with the arts community in DL in general, is to bring even more art into the community.

Many of those in the art community in Detroit Lakes are seeing huge potential in the coming years to collaborate with businesses and the City. With the support of businesses that are not specifically art-related and those on the city council, it seems more likely that more large-scale art projects will start to take place.

Local art champion and wife of Hans Gilsdorf Mary Beth Gilsdorf sees this intersection impacting art as the city continues to grow.

“I see a lot of potential in the connections between artists, businesses, and the City. That is the triangle that makes really amazing things happen. We’ve got momentum and we are on a very good path with all the right people in the right places. We’re seeing the same mindset more often—that whatever project we’re doing, art will enhance it and make it better,” she said.

Nancy Haggart, a member of the Arts & Culture Commission and the City Planning Commission, has seen strides from the city to incorporate art further into the community.

“The city is very open to incorporating more art into the community—it’s been talked about for quite a while,” Haggart said. “With the addition of the Arts & Culture Commission, people are being made more and more aware of it. Even though the commission has only been around for a year, the city has been very cooperative, and I think they will continue to be cooperative.”

Those involved in the City’s day-to-day operations also see the art space opening up more in the Detroit Lakes area. Carrie Johnston, President of the Detroit Lakes Chamber of Commerce, notes that the community is supporting more and more artistic endeavors in recent years.

“I think our community is creating spaces for people to be creative,” Johnston said. “The Becker County Museum has a maker space, along with a digital lab and a lot of other creative spaces. The Holmes Theatre has had a lot of artistic opportunities with the art cellar and their classes. There are so many more examples. All of those places have really tried to connect with the community.

It has really expanded in the last 5-10 years, and it will continue to expand.”

With all of the support from the Arts & Culture Commission, the City of Detroit Lakes, the Chamber of Commerce, and many within the community, I don’t think the arts in DL are going anywhere soon. In fact, hopefully there will be more art than ever before!

The Importance of Art in Detroit Lakes

The art community is only getting stronger in the Detroit Lakes area, and this means that the community itself is getting stronger and more connected.

“Art shows vibrancy and life in the community, and also shows a community is growing and expanding and exploring,” artist Hans Gilsdorf said. “We’re adding art, music, and events versus staying stagnant. Detroit Lakes is exploding with creativity and imagination to not only beautify our own community and strengthen it, but to have community ownership and community pride, which is also a huge attraction for people to come here to live. It shows that a community has a strong life to it.”

The thriving art community also shows the citizens (and those just visiting) how inclusive Detroit Lakes is. Claire Danner, a member of the Arts & Culture Commission and the local high school art teacher, emphasized this.

“These recent public art projects say to people that we are a creative and caring place because a lot of our artwork is going to be very inclusive,” Danner said. “We’ve got some art from a Native American perspective, we’ve got some art that is showcasing veterans, and more. It is going to tell people that we are an inclusive community and that we care about you and about creative minds. People will see the art in the community and think, ‘I’m a creative person, I have space here, I have value here.’ Whereas maybe before, it wasn’t as visible for people to see—you had to go and search for it. It’s going to create more community and give people more connections to the community.”

There will be plenty of art to see in the Detroit Lakes area in the near future, so visit to learn more about upcoming arts & culture events in DL!


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