An art oasis for 25 years in the heart of Eagan

by Larry Werner
Special to Sun Thisweek
Dakota County Tribune

One day several years ago, when I was managing Thisweek Newspapers and the Dakota County Tribune, I got a call from Cheryl Caponi, who invited me to come out to the Art Park she and her husband, Anthony Caponi, had built on Diffley Road between Pilot Knob and Lexington.

I had heard of Caponi Art Park, but had never visited. The Caponis thought the editor and general manager of the local newspaper should know about the park and what goes on there and, of course, assign his writers to do stories about the place.

I retired in 2013 from ECM Publishers, parent company of Sun Thisweek and the Tribune. In 2015, Tony Caponi, the sculptor and former art professor at Macalester College, died at age 94.

Last summer, Cheryl Caponi called me again – this time to ask that I join the board of Caponi Art Park, which operates the 60-acre park and its programs. My fellow board members, including Tom Barnard, the retired director at the Lakeville Area Arts Center, have been immersed in a strategic-planning process for the nonprofit that runs the park.

The board has also been planning ways to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the park, using the slogan, “25 years of art in nature.” The first event, entitled “Reflected Light,” is an art exhibition that runs May 5 to July 11 at the Eagan Community Center. Additional works are on display at Eagan’s Wescott Library.

On Sunday, June 11, from 3-5 p.m., you’re invited to a “Birthday Bash and Outdoor Classroom Dedication.”

The “outdoor classroom” is a shelter built with contributions from private donors on a high spot in this peaceful, hilly, wooded place that is cut through with walking trails, a large amphitheater and Tony’s art.  The new structure will be used for performances, classes and other events.

A summer performance series will kick off on July 9. And while the park’s Theater in the Woods has had music on Sunday nights for years, we’ll be trying some new things this year, such as plays and a “Bluegrass and Beer” event on July 14. Watch for information on these and other programs in Sun Thisweek and the Tribune, or go to

On one of the first warm days this spring, I took a walk in the park. I thought about the fact that this park, which straddles Diffley Road with a tunnel connecting the north and south portions, was the home of an Italian immigrant who decided to share it with art and nature lovers.

Eagan, a fully developed community, is fortunate to have this place for enjoying the quiet, the sculptures and the performances. To make sure it remains a people’s space, we’ve set a goal for raising $25,000 in this 25th year.

You can go to the website to donate, drop donations in boxes on the property and attend the events at this oasis in the middle of Dakota County’s largest city. I hope to see you there.

Larry Werner is the retired general manager of Sun Thisweek and the Dakota County Tribune. His email is [email protected]. Columns reflect the opinion of the author.