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New arts center a dream come true

Jenna Johnson family has months of hard work into its creation

By Chuck Hunt - Editor | Dec 20, 2020

Jenna Johnson, of Blue Earth, with some help from her family, has been spending over a year hard at work at turning the former Central Graphics Printing building into a new arts center named The 10 Talents. Pictured above, in front of the new arts center which is already open, are Jenna Johnson with her husband, Dr. Aaron Johnson, and three of their children, Vern, 17, Jamie, 15 and Spencer, 6.

Jenna Johnson, of Blue Earth, says taking a big, old, empty former printing plant building and turning it into an arts center has been “an interesting journey.”

After more than a year of hard work she is nearing the end of that journey, and has started opening it up for both music and painting lessons.

But, it hasn’t been easy. And she still has some more finish work to get done before she feels it will be complete.

The very beginning of this story starts two years ago.

“I was planning to go back to school to get my music teaching degree,” Johnson, who is both an accomplished musician and artist, says. “But my painting instructor at the time said I had a real gift with painting and so she thought I should teach painting classes.”

So she did. She was having classes in her in-laws home, but the lighting was not great for doing art work.

“Then Shelly Greimann bought a building in downtown Blue Earth and I talked to her about maybe using the basement for my painting classes,” Johnson remembers. “But, it really was not handicap accessible for some of my students.”

She says she was really disappointed, but then her husband, Dr. Aaron Johnson, suggested they find their own building.

So they did. Purchasing the former Central Graphics printing company building on East 14th Street in Blue Earth, in August of 2019.

“You know, I had never really noticed this Central Graphics building, or noticed it was for sale by owner, until one day we drove by it,” Johnson says. “It was in very bad condition, but it had the space to do everything I wanted.”

Those plans included creating a space for the arts, for music and painting and other types of art.

“It was really important to me to create an awesome space for teachers to come and give classes to music and arts students,” she explains. “And this place, after we demoed it to the walls, was a great blank canvas where I could design everything just the way I wanted it.”

The place was a mess, and had water damage and mold issues. Johnson and her crew, which was mainly her husband and children, cleaned it out and demoed everything down to the bare block walls.

And then she took over. Johnson did an awful lot of the work herself. She built the walls, laid floor tile, made the built-in fireplace herself, put up the siding and the new awning, painted everything and more – much, much more.

“The irony is, I didn’t want to teach music as a full time job,” she says. “Yet I have put in more than full time working on this project. Sometimes it was 17 hour days.”

She gives an awful lot of thanks to her family and friends who have helped her out. And, she is tremendously grateful to the businesses which helped her, and were patient and understanding when she kept asking them how to do things.

“Lampert employees, especially Mark Rauenhorst, took the time to answer my unending questions,” Johnson says. “And Anderson Electric and Meyers Plumbing were here from the beginning and went the second mile to help out.”

Johnson shares a story about Randy Anderson of Anderson Electric.

“He kept telling me I needed to get a table saw and quit trying to do all the cutting with my little skilsaw,” she says. “I told him my husband didn’t like that idea because of all the patients he has had with cut off fingers. Randy held up his hand with a missing thumb and said, ‘You mean like this?'”

Eventually Johnson did get a table saw and Anderson showed her to run it and do it safely.

“I still remember him saying just take your time, never be in a hurry,” she recalls. “He helped me in many ways.”

She had a lot of local help. That includes Patten Roofing who made sure the roof issues were resolved even if it took a lot of trips, Vets Glass with the windows and entry door, Polo did the Sheetrock, Armon Decorating did the carpet and furnished most of the paint, Jared Ihle did the block work, Todd Levenhagen made the iron header beams, Sukalski did the concrete sidewalks.

“But mainly I am grateful to my family for all their hard work and sacrifice,” she says. “Especially my husband, who never complained, about the time it took me, or the cost.”

Now the finished art center includes four music practice rooms, an office (currently serving as an additional practice room), a large and spacious waiting-gathering room, a side room for the grand piano, a very large activity room which can be rented out for parties or be a large classroom area, and a full-size kitchen complete with cabinets and all appliances.

“There is also a small apartment with its own separate bathroom with shower,” Johnson says. “I plan to let traveling teachers use it when they come to spend a week teaching classes, after we get the final variance for it, that is. It could also be a place for my husband to stay during snowstorms since we live out in the country and he needs to be on call at the hospital.”

And then there is the massive back area, which Johnson calls the warehouse. It is where all the printing equipment and large rolls of paper were kept.

“We have a lot of ideas for that space, but that is going to be in the future,” she says. “We have had suggestions it could be a rec center, or a gym, or just storage. But we are not sure. For now, we set up a large theater area with surround sound for our family to enjoy.”

There is already a lot of activity going on at the new arts center. Johnson reports that there are several music teachers having students in each week. That includes Kelsey (Engesser) Zbaracki, Laura Larson and the Mankato School of Music.

“We have 60 students coming in here each week,” Johnson says. “They are learning piano but also violin, cello and guitar. We are looking at having a voice teacher in the future, as well.”

There is a fifth grade band taking lessons and practicing at the center, as well.

Johnson has started giving a few painting classes, also, but after the first of the year she plans to really get the classes going.

“I am a certified Bob Ross landscape painting instructor and a certified portrait painting instructor,” she says. “I am also thinking of starting an art club, and maybe having an art summer camp for younger kids.”

She adds that she fully expects her new The 10 Talents Arts Center to constantly evolve and change over time.

And about that name, The 10 Talents, where did that come from, you may be wondering.

“It is from the Bible, from Matthew 25,” Johnson explains. “Where the master gives one servant five talents, one servant two and one servant just one. The servant with five talents turns them into 10. I want this to be a place where we grow our talents and share them.”

She says there are so many voices in this world telling us, especially the youth, that we are not good enough or that our worth depends on being the best at something.

“In my eyes, developing our talents isn’t about competition and trying to be better than someone else,” she explains. “It’s about becoming the best that we can be, and using those talents to help others. I want my studio to be a place where students come with excitement and leave with a feeling of accomplishment.”

Johnson also developed another philosophy while doing this big project and doing so much of it herself.

“Don’t look too close at my construction work,” she says. “Some of it is not that great. I used to be a perfectionist and that would bother me. But now my philosophy is that it doesn’t have to be perfect in order to be beautiful. And, you know, that thought works well for a lot of things – and people – in life, as well. They don’t have to be perfect in order to be beautiful.”