The Campanile Center for the Arts: Continuing its tradition of ‘something for everyone’
Story and photos by Lori Adler
Part art center, part conservatory and part community center, the Campanile Center for the Arts in downtown Minocqua offers a little bit of everything. More than just a place to see a show, it allows Northwoods residents and tourists alike to experience music and culture both as spectator and a participant.
The Campanile Center began in 2006 when Trygve (Trig) Solberg, Keith Bane, Martin Ozinga and Ken Ozinga pooled their money to buy St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Minocqua. Outgrowing their conservatory space in a small house in Woodruff, needing room for the community band and chorus, and wanting to preserve the old church, the Campanile Center for the Arts was born.
The church pews were removed from the sanctuary to create a 400-seat auditorium, and the attached rectory was remodeled to create a conservatory. While its in-house lighting and sound systems are less than professional, the center rents what it needs to accommodate incoming shows. Outside funding allows the nonprofit center to bring world-class productions to the area while keeping ticket prices down.
“It’s wonderful because, otherwise there’s really no resource without a significant drive for people,” Sandra Madden, executive director of the Campanile Center, explained, adding, “We’ve got folks that come over from Park Falls; we have folks that come up from Tomahawk and Merrill to see shows up here.”
Madden, who has been the center’s director since 2017, came to the area as a visitor, and like many Northwoods residents, decided to stay. She has brought with her a wealth of experience from managing symphony orchestras in Madison and Colorado to running performing arts centers in Brookfield and Appleton. The Campanile Center, however, is quite different from any other performing art center.
One unique aspect, she remarked, “Most performing art centers don’t have conservatories attached.”
The conservatory features 12 faculty who give music lessons and teach art classes. One can learn to play almost any band instrument with the wide range of instructors available, but the most popular instruments are piano and guitar. The conservatory teaches all ages and currently has students that range in age from 4 to 90.
The other unique aspect of the center, as Madden explained, is the large seasonal population of the area.
“A traditional performing arts center has a season that starts into September and goes until May, and you don’t do anything in the summer because everybody goes to the lake. Well, we’re the lake,” Madden states.
Programming at the center therefore is year-round with plenty to do both in the summer and winter months.
The summer features a month-long youth theater in July and a choral workshop called “Aurora Borealis” in August. Other summer events are what Madden says fits into the “spirit of vacation time.” The past couple years have seen a comedy team in a show called “Ole and Lena Live” and the ever popular bagpipe rock band known as the Red Hot Chili Pipers.
During the winter, the center operates a somewhat normal performing art center schedule with a variety of shows including tribute bands, comedy and theater. The goal of both seasons though is to provide a wide variety of unique shows so that everyone can find something they will like.
Madden states, “It runs the gamut, and I think that’s what’s fun about it. Something for everybody.”
While Madden is excited to bring a variety of performances to the Northwoods, she is even more passionate about a program she’s started called “Ken’s Kids.” A couple of years ago, one of the founding members of the center, Ken Ozinga, passed away. Ken had a love for art education, and with that in mind, Madden began Ken’s Kids, a program to expose middle school children to the arts.
“One of the things that I had wanted to start from the moment I started here was some sort of a broader educational program,” Madden explains, “I wanted to bus the kids in to see a show here from the schools because that’s how I sort of got my start. I grew up in the Milwaukee area, and we used to get to go down to Uihlein Hall on these field trips, and it was amazing. It was so different from the school assembly.”
Starting last year with Ken’s Kids first educational event, Madden arranged for school children from across the Northwoods to come in to see a performance called Outrageous, a rock group that create huge paintings on the stage along with the music. In addition to the performance, teachers are provided with accompanying curriculum that can be used all year long and which then culminates in the performance. The curriculum utilizes science, vocabulary and other subject areas so the performance is educational as well as entertaining.
Madden was thrilled to hear from a teacher after last year’s event who called the very next day and said, “I don’t care what your show is next year; I want to bring my kids back.” This year’s event for Ken’s Kids will be in March with the show “Catapult,” a shadow dance group that was featured on America’s Got Talent in 2013.
“It’s important for us,” Madden adds, “because I want the kids up here to have the same access and opportunity for exposure that I had.”
In addition to the conservatory, the performance schedule and Ken’s Kids, the Campanile Center for the Arts also acts as a community center. The huge basement has been remodeled – thanks to a generous donation from an area ballerina – into a dance studio with youth classes operated by Island City Dance conducted regularly. The center is also the home to the Lakeland Community Concert Band and Campanile Community Chorus, and there is a small gallery used for community and student art installations. The center is used for community activities, fundraising events and even the occasional wedding.
The center is run by Madden, one other full-time staff member, a part-time staffer who mainly operates the sound and lighting equipment for the shows, and the music and art faculty. All other needs are fulfilled by volunteers. Funding comes mainly from individual and company donations as well as grant money. About 60% of the operating costs of the center comes from these outside sources, keeping event ticket prices and tuitions for music and art lessons as low as possible to give everyone access. While fundraising happens throughout the year and for specific events such as Ken’s Kids or the summer youth theater, the Campanile Center for the Arts is beginning its primary fundraising activity now through the end of the year.
To make a donation, volunteer, schedule a lesson, see upcoming events, purchase tickets for a show, buy a gift certificate or simply for more information, visit campanilecenter.org or call 715-356-9700.