LITTLE FALLS -- The Great River Arts Association has dramatically changed its strategy for the current performing arts season, which opens Sept. 20 with folk artist Katy Tessman.
The changes mean fewer performances and even less marquee value than last year's season, which included such luminaries as Leon Redbone, the Child's Play Touring Theatre Co. of Chicago and the Ethnic Dance Theatre troupe of New York.
In addition, the nonprofit organization for the first time is promoting a concert for the Brainerd audience, a Jan. 25 appearance in Tornstrom Auditorium at Washington Middle School in Brainerd by the Twin Cities Gospel Choir.
GRAA's latest strategy was prompted by community feedback and budgetary considerations, said Bill Adkins, the group's executive director.
If you go
Who: Katy Tessman
What: Twin Cities folk artist
Where: Pine Edge Inn, Little Falls
When: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 20
Cost: $8, adults; $6, seniors at the gate or call (320) 632-0777
"Some community organizations have said they didn't want us to do as many of our own performances, that we were overloading the market and taking (ticket sales) away from them," Adkins said. "We have listened to them and taken their concerns into consideration."
The most significant change involves the merger of the GRAA's traditional performing arts season with its house concerts schedule, resulting in a sharp reduction in the number of on-stage productions.
In previous years, GRAA hosted a half dozen acts in its performing arts season at Little Falls High School, many with high marquee value, including last year's headliner Leon Redbone.
Last year's House Concerts Series featured 10 separate acts from September through May, with performances at Jason's Casual Dining in Little Falls. The series included some of Minnesota's best-known folk musicians, such as Charlie Maguire, Catfish Keith, Charlie Roth and Steve Cloutier.
With the merger of the two series, GRAA will host eight house concerts at the Pine Edge Inn in Little Falls, one "select performance" by St. Cloud's George Maurer jazz ensemble and a "select performance" by the gospel group at Washington Middle School in Brainerd.
Adkins said GRAA broke even or lost money on every performance last year and "our goal this year is to try not to lose so much."
"We are doing our best to serve the cultural needs of the communities we serve," he added.
GRAA was founded about a decade ago as a support organization for other arts-related groups. As it evolved over the years, however, GRAA began to develop its own list of programs, including a performance arts season.
The organization assumed management of the long-running Little Falls House Concerts Series for the first time last year.
GRAA also offered a summer arts program for children in several neighboring communities for the first time this year. Called PEAK, the program attracted about 1,000 elementary school students to its course offerings, all taught by visiting professional artists.
Adkins said he hopes to expand the PEAK program into the Brainerd area in the years ahead.
Meanwhile, Tessman's Sept. 20 performance is billed as a house concert appearance, starting at 7:30 p.m. at the Pine Edge Inn.
Other house concerts acts include Peter Mayer on Oct. 4, Latona's Thirst on Nov. 15, Curtis & Loretta on Jan. 31, Shannon Murray on Feb. 7, Atreyu's Quest on Feb. 21, Lucy Webster on March 21 and Barb Ryman on April 4.
A contemporary folk artist from the Twin Cities, Tessman was a finalist in the 2000 Minnesota New Folk songwriting contest.
"Katy combines energy and emotion with genuine warmth and musical passion," a GRAA news release said. "Her powerful voice and rhythmic approach to the acoustic guitar or mandolin express a straight-from-the heart songwriting style that's won accolades from fans and critics alike."
Tickets are $8 for adults and $6 for seniors. They are available at the gate or by calling (320) 632-0777.
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