Caponi Art Park celebrating 25 years

Party, reflective exhibition in the works for 2017

Founder of the park Tony Caponi
Founder of the park Tony Caponi

One of the pioneering forces brining art to everyday life in Eagan is now a quarter century old.

This year Caponi Art Park is celebrating 25 years as a nonprofit.

Executive director Cheryl Caponi, co-founder of Caponi Art Park with her husband Anthony, said the park has been a unique source of inspiration and creativity in Minnesota for decades.

Although Anthony Caponi died in 2015, his legacy lives on in the 60-acre green space off Diffley Road in Eagan.

“Most of our time during the last 25 years was making sure the land the park is on would stay open space,” Cheryl Caponi said. “We started at a time when Eagan was the fastest growing city in the state. We were swimming the opposite direction of the city. We said we don’t want to sell our land. We want to leave it as an open space in the future.”

Wayne Potratz, a retired University of Minnesota professor and former Anthony Caponi student, is now the park’s board chair who has been inspired by the park throughout his career.

“It’s a kind of a place where art and nature are seen in context with each other,” Potratz said. “Caponi was a real role model for me. He was a worker. He essentially worked the land. He placed his work in the context of nature. The whole place is like one big sculpture.”

The sculpture garden is its signature feature, and the park is home to several tours, field trips, educational opportunities and programs throughout the spring, summer and fall.

There’s a summer performance series every Sunday, artist-led explorations on Tuesdays, a medieval fair in September and annual Halloween at the Park in October among many other special events.caponi halloween 9

“There’s a real community component to it,” Potratz said. “It’s a public place. There’s education for children. You can experience various types of music and theater performances.”

Organizers still are still in the planning process for other ways to honor the anniversary including a birthday party.

A new beer and bluegrass event is in the works as well.

This year they’re also opening up a newly created outdoor classroom on the southern portion of the property. It was paid for after a successful crowdfunding campaign last year.
Caponi also mentioned two big programs waiting on grant funding approval, but couldn’t divulge any more details.

Organizers want people to know the public is welcome to the park.

“We know the audience isn’t as diverse as we like it to be,” Caponi said. “The place is for everybody.”

It takes money to make some of the magic happen.

Many of the summer series performances have a $5 admission fee. For some performances this summer, tickets will rise to $10.

“Performers need to be compensated, but if people say they have a hardship, we’re here to serve the community,” Caponi said. “It’s something that’s being done reluctantly but there’s a financial reality. We’re still trying to figure out ways to be as accessible as possible.”

Financial stability is key to making it another 25 years.

Funding for a nonprofit is a constant struggle, Potratz said.

“It’s here because my husband and I dedicated 25 years of our lives to make sure it’s here,” Caponi said. “We need as an organization to look to the community for involvement. To be here for the next 25 years in terms of funding and sustainability.”

Much of Caponi Art Park’s funding comes from the Minnesota Arts Board or the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council through Minnesota legacy funds.

“It’s always good to the thank the people who give the money, which is the citizens of the state, and it’s also good to the let them know it’s being well used,” Caponi said.

To commemorate 25 years, the park is asking for people in the community to submit reflective artwork for an exhibition from May to July.

“All of these years the park has been here through all the programs and experiences, meaningful experiences, we’re asking the community to respond back on how the park has been a part of their life and influenced their life, and express that through whatever form of art they choose,” Caponi said.

Even if community members just have a story to share, perhaps it could be included in a story book as part of the exhibit, Caponi said.

The deadline is March 31. For more information on performances and how to submit artwork, visit www.caponiartpark.org.

The Caponi Art Park also seeks volunteers, board members, sponsors and input.

It’s open May through October at 1220 Diffley Road in Eagan.