Monday, March 26, 2012

Ten Minutes with Kat Eldred, an Arts-Centered Life

In recent years the A.H. Zeppa Foundation has played a significant role in support of the arts in our community, from the Zeitgeist Building renovation to the manifold ways it has quietly influenced and lent support to individuals and organizations in our community. From 2007 till last fall Kat Eldred has been at the center of much of this activity, serving as director of communications and operations and later co-executive director. Simultaneously, she has been a managing member of The Red Mug since founding it in 2004. If you don't know Kat, then it's my privilege to make this introduction.

Ennyman: How did you come to take an interest in the arts? Who were your biggest influences?

Kat Eldred: I was "born this way" (Lady Gaga). Seriously, as a child, a blank sheet of paper was very exciting to me. I have always been compelled to create, to communicate through the visual arts. My mother studied art through community education offerings when I was young and that gave me my first exposure to paints and canvas. I remember my very first painting of African violets.

I was also an “art room junkie” during my high school years. You would find me there during lunch hours and study halls. I was really into photography initially (setting up my own darkroom in my parent’s house).

Painting (oils/acrylics) became my medium during my college years in Vermont. I found some mentors in the arts community there. Then as a young mother, I found a creative outlet on Sunday afternoons in Massachusetts when I left the babies at home with my husband and went to paint with Louise Minks in her studio at Millworks in Montague, MA. A slice of creative heaven. Louise has been my greatest mentor as we share a passion for color and plein aire painting around the New England countryside.

E: Your thesis in college focused on twentieth century German art, pre- and post-Hitler. This is a fascinating period. What in particular drew you to this subject matter and what did you learn from the experience?

KE: I spent a semester in Paris during my sophomore year of college and most of my senior year on an internship in London. During those years I had access to the world’s greatest museums and literally could “live” European art history. When I wasn’t in class, I would be walking the streets of Paris looking for connections to Picasso and Van Gogh among others (where they lived, worked and hung out).

I was as interested in their stories and the historical context in which they worked and lived as I was interested in what they created. During my senior year in London there was a fabulous exhibit German Art in the Twentieth Century at the Royal Academy, 11 October to 22 December 1985, the largest exhibition of German art in Britain since. 1938. Prior to experiencing that exhibit, I had discovered and been greatly impacted by German artist Kathe Kollwitz’s emotional drawings depicting her personal pain experienced throughout her life and particularly related to WWII.

My thesis grew out of my in-depth study of how desperate Hitler was to control the creative spirit, creating a list of “degenerate artists”; artists whose work was outlawed. It reminded me of “McCarthyism” in the US. Artists’ sensitivity to their surroundings and ability to communicate through their artwork makes them powerful foes for anyone wishing to crush or control the human spirit. The raw emotion of art created in Germany just post-Hitler, was most likely as cathartic as it was grotesque, much of it giving voice to unspeakable pain and suffering.

E: You were associated with the A. H. Zeppa Family Foundation in various capacities from 2007 to 2011. The Foundation has played a high profile role in the revitalization of the arts here in Duluth. Can you elaborate on the ways the Zeppa Foundation has been contributing in ways we often don't see?

KE: Yes, I was fortunate to meet Mr. Zeppa early in the formation of his family foundation. Besides the obvious Zeitgeist Arts complex in downtown Duluth, the Foundation has generously funded many arts-related efforts in the community. The Foundation was instrumental in funding ArtWorks! in 2008 – one of the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation’s Knight Creative Communities initiatives that I was fortunate enough to co-chair. That event sparked a community-wide dialog regarding how the arts contribute to a community’s economy and more specifically Duluth’s. People continue to reference ArtWorks! and the influence it has had.
Mr. Zeppa’s support for the Renegade Theater not only gained them a stage and home in the Teatro Zuccone, but his financial support helped attract the fantastic talent that now spearheads that operation. The Foundation has supported the arts at Marshall High School, the Duluth Art Institute, The Minnesota Ballet, and the Duluth Superior Symphony as well as small non-profit start ups like the Superior Council for the Arts in Superior, WI.


Paintings here by Kat Eldred,
After the Storm (top) and Italy.

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