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Folk Art Festival takes shape

Alexandria may not have been the destination anyone had in mind initially when Pioneer Public Television wanted to sponsor a free event for its viewers. It quickly became an obvious choice, however.

"We were looking for somewhere in our northern viewing area with Scandinavian ties," said Patrick Moore, the station's communications director. "We know that there's a bedrock of Scandinavian culture in the region, with ties to Knute Nelson going way back. And it's a great membership town for Pioneer."

Not to mention that Explore Alexandria has been a longtime corporate supporter of the station's Postcards documentary series, which has turned the spotlight on Alexandria in the past.

However, it wasn't until Amanda Seim, executive director of the Runestone Museum, got involved that Alexandria became a natural choice.

The idea has more than taken hold in Alexandria, and the public TV station's inaugural effort will be rolled out Thursday, April 25, in the form of the Nordic Folk Art Festival. Launching the festivities will be a full afternoon of music, artists, food and specials at a half-dozen downtown stores and the museum, live music and a documentary screening at the Andria Theatre, followed by events that evening at the Garden Bar on 6th and the Runestone Museum.

"It has really blossomed," Seim said of the festival. "The downtown is going to be hopping."

Downtown gets involved

Moore was looking for something more than a simple screening and discussion of Postcards, its series of locally-produced documentaries that celebrate the region's history and culture. Now in its 10th season, they have included shows with a Scandinavian focus, chronicling how that culture is being practiced and passed down to a new generation.

"It's a new endeavor for Pioneer to take our TV programs out of the living room — or the computer or cell phone or however people watch — and connect real faces with real people," he said. "We wanted to have a larger audience see these and combine it with a 'maker' event," mixing the idea with demonstrations and other attractions.

Seim was contacted by the director of the Lake Region Arts Council in Fergus Falls about hosting the Pioneer Postcards event. The Runestone Museum has a theater, but its capacity is under 30. Considering the public TV station reaches into parts of five states with viewership of more than two million, according to Moore, Seim realized that this event was going to bring more people into the city than the museum could hold. So she went to work at bringing more people into the fold.

"I really have to hand it to Amanda, as a new person on the block who is really interested in reaching out and collaborating," Moore said. "We have members in Alexandria, but we need people like Amanda who are going to go to the merchants."

As a former business owner who called himself a community organizer by trade, Moore believes that willingness to collaborate is what makes events successful.

"I know how important it is for individual merchants, like in Alex, to create excitement. The No. 1 rule of retail these days is to create excitement and foot traffic," he said. "It's that instinct that we were able to tap into as well."

The Andria Theatre was brought on board as the site of the Postcards screening. Paul Wilson and Mary Abendroth will play Scandinavian folk music a half-hour prior to the showing, outside the theater or, depending on the weather, inside it.

"We should get the Scandanavian Gift Shop involved," Seim said. She approached the Downtown Merchants Association, and the organization climbed aboard. Instead of an hour-long event where people watch a screening and listen to a speaker, the festival will kick off at 1 p.m. and run right through into the evening.

Bon Jos, Ravnik and Co., Yesterdays, Trend and Couture by Ann Manning, Creative Touch Boutique and Potomac Bead Company will join the Scandinavian Gift Shop and the museum in hosting events from 1-5 p.m. They will run the gamut from lefse demonstrations, wood spinning and nordic-themed pottery to Scandinavian flute choir, crafts and treats.

Following the screening at the theater, the Garden Bar on 6th will host Scandinavian music and a session with rosemaler Karen Jenson of Milan, the subject of one of the most popular Postcards episodes.

"It was our most shared and watched Facebook video of the year. This video just took off. Within a week of it being posted, it had 25,000 views," Moore said. "It's a moving story, a testament to a career of a lifelong rosemaler."

Wrapping up the event is a sami-inspired bracelet-making class at the museum.

"It's been fantastic that everyone is interested," said Seim, who views the event as a precursor to its second annual Mai Fest on May 18. "It's been a really positive experience."

IF YOU GO

What: Nordic Folk Art Festival

When: Thursday, April 25

Where: Throughout downtown Alexandria, in various stores, the Andria Theatre, Runestone Museum and Garden Bar on 6th

More info: Call the Runestone Museum at 763-3160 or Pioneer Public Television at 800-726-3178.

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