When I think about the White Bear Center for the Arts, I automatically include Suzi Hudson, the longtime director and guiding force behind the organization, which has become a regional destination for creative thinkers and artists. The recent news that she is planning to retire at the end of the year evoked feelings of respect and admiration for what she has been able to accomplish during her tenure. She has led the organization for the majority of the time I’ve worked in the area, so I’ve been able to witness the growth and evolution of this local arts organization from a small office and classroom — with other classes scattered in different venues around the community — to the impressive building and surrounding grounds we see today.
As a photographer, I have to admit that I’m somewhat biased and have long appreciated the visually interesting photo opportunities that events and activities at the arts center have provided over the years. I’ve always been curious about what sort of creative and sometimes outlandish happenings the “cool kids” in town were planning, including art car parades, animated bear sculptures, interactive graffiti demonstrations, ceramic “raku” firings and downtown iron pours. On a personal note, the experience of displaying a photographic exhibition of my work at the center — made possible with a grant from an anonymous donor in the community — is certainly one of the highlights of the time I’ve lived and worked in this area. Prior to the opening of that exhibit I was quite nervous. I knew a close circle of friends and family were planning on coming, but what if the event wasn’t well attended? I finally stopped worrying when I drove up to the arts center and saw that the parking lot was almost full. Once inside, I felt that I was in good hands with the support and kindness provided by WBCA staff members and volunteers during this first-time experience of exhibiting photos in a gallery. As a kind of cherry on top, many of the images in the exhibit were sold in a silent auction, with proceeds going back to the arts center.