Shell Lake Arts Center celebrates 50 years this summer

Danielle Danford | Staff writer

SHELL LAKE – Fifty years ago this summer, the Shell Lake Arts Center started as a two-week jazz camp for high school students. The arts center today has grown its programs but maintained its founding principles, and is a nationally renowned music and arts education organization. 

 “We remain dedicated to our mission of providing arts education for children. Darrell Aderman started this program 50 years ago with three fundamentals. He wanted the best teachers, the best musicians and the best people, and that rings true to our core belief even today,” said Tara Burns, Shell Lake Arts Center executive director.

This summer marks the 50th anniversary of the arts center’s founding by Aderman in 1967. In commemoration of the anniversary, a special concert celebrating five decades of music will take place Wednesday, June 28, at 7 p.m., in the arts center building. The concert will also serve as an alumni reunion and benefit concert. The proceeds will benefit the art center’s scholarship program.

On Saturday, June 17, a jazz concert at the Potter’s Shed in Shell Lake will benefit the Shell Lake Arts Center. The band members are world-class jazz musicians who lead summer camps at the arts center.

A jazz concert to support the Shell Lake Arts Center will be held at The Shed on Saturday, June 17, at 7 p.m. The Potter’s Shed is located at 260 Industrial Blvd.

Aderman was described as a dreamer with enthusiasm and is credited with the founding of the arts center, which was first called the Indianhead Arts Center. When the Shell Lake community learned of Aderman’s vision for the jazz camp, they united behind his dream by allowing the bank to use their personal savings accounts as collateral to make the $80,000 camp dormitory loan viable. Then many local residents put in their own physical labor and time into the construction of the 140-person dormitory. The main educational and performance building is the original Shell Lake School. 

Since its first summer, more than 32,000 students have experienced the programs offered by the arts center. Today, the art center’s programs span nine weeks and include 17 different programs. Their programs have grown outside of the original music camps to include a music theater camp, a show choir camp and, new this season, a vocal camp. 

The arts center remains active outside of camp season with school-year programs and community events. School-year programs the arts center hosts include honors band and honors choir. Community events include an annual haunted house, Oktoberfest and a film series.

“For me, what’s most important is our mission to provide music and art education for children, and children are always at the root,” said Burns.

Every summer the arts center has 100 accomplished musicians as teaching artists. Most of these artists have been with the arts center for many years, and some, like Thomas Luer, are camp alumni. 

“People should know that lifelong relationships are created amongst students at SLAC. These relationships are a result of a passion for the arts and the desire to be a part of a community that shares those values. The impact of what students learn there is felt statewide, nationwide, and becomes a thread that ties together generations of people in a positive way,” said Luer, jazz faculty member and Grammy-nominated performer. 

Finding passionate performers and wonderful people were a cornerstone to Aderman’s vision of the arts center, one that the organization has maintained over the years. The arts center also employs 25 full-time seasonal positions every year. 

“You never know what you will pick up around here that will be useful, it’s not just music, it’s your life. You can learn so many things that can help you be successful. It comes from quality and passion, seeing other people who are successful and inspiring,” said Carly Moline, Shell Lake Arts Center associate director. 

This is Moline’s third season with the arts center, for Burns it is her 11th year. 

“I can give you stats on how valuable we are to the community and the tourist dollars that we bring in but the real reason that we are here is for the children and to provide that safe, positive, happy experience is what we are all about,” said Burns. 

While the arts center’s $110,000 economic impact on the region during its camp season is impressive, the organization remains focused on its goal to create an environment where adult and school-age students have meaningful connections, find their voices, create art, make friends, grow and reach their full potential.

“Our achievements would be our students that have gone on to do fantastic things, whether it’s excelling in music or another profession,” said Moline. 

Looking to the future, the arts center is in the silent phase of raising $4.5 million to replace its dormitories, kitchen, dining area and classrooms. 

“Our hope, with a renovated building, will be to have more programs all year-round, to expand our offerings so we are not solely dependent on our summer camp income,” said Burns. The future of the arts center could include more adult, community-based programs.

Most of all the future of the arts center will focus on ensuring that a positive learning environment will exist for future generations of artists.

“Art and music is just so important for children. We have to find a way to keep those opportunities available for the children, musicians and artists that really need that outlet,” said Burns.

Music Theater is a newer but popular camp. At the end of the camp the students perform the production they’ve been working on all week to show the skills and talents they have developed.