Durben to be Honored

Courtesy of the Owatonna People's Press, September 9

The Owatonna Arts Center will celebrate Silvan Durben’s 40th anniversary as creative director Sept. 17.

“I’m very honored people want to do something like this for me,” Durben said. “I enjoy what I do, and the excitement of this position is there are always new projects.”

As part of the celebration, organizers are hoping to establish a scholarship in his name, and they’re accepting donations, said Theresa Harsma.

“I think (Durben) would be pleased for a student to get a scholarship for the arts,” because he’s “been a positive force for the arts in Owatonna” for decades, she said.

Indeed, “the scholarship (plan) is humbling,” Durben said. “I believe in the arts, and I want them to grow and continue.”

Scholarships ensure the arts will live, thrive, and prosper. Art makes life worthwhile and gives it meaning.”

Durben is “encouraging, enthusiastic, and supportive,” Harsma said. “He has helped emerging artists on their journey — seeing the artistic spark in their work and giving them permission to follow their passion—(and) I have been one of those fortunate” artists.

When Harsma first moved to Owatonna, she was thrilled to discover the city had an arts center, and even more ecstatic when she met Durben, she said. As long as the space was open, he’d let artists use the studio, and he proved to be a sanguine influence and talent cultivator.

“He gave us opportunities to have classes or shows,” she added. “He was always open to anything creative.”

“If I was to describe Silvan’s value to the (OAC) in one word I would use the word ‘devoted,’” said Arlan Burmeister, president of the OAC. “Not only is he devoted, he is extremely talented in decorating,” arranging art pieces for exhibits, and even “adding extras to special events such as weddings (and) dinners.”

Durben is “always at the arts center,” Burmeister added. “In addition to being physically present, he is available to answer questions, assist with projects, or just greet anyone who visits.”

Durben’s “creativity constantly amazes me,” as does his “eye” for art and design, said Judy Srsen, who has worked at the arts center in a variety of capacities for 30 years. Additionally, he is “full of ideas,” and “he loves people.”

When Durben arrived in 1977, the OAC itself was still in the inchoate stage of development, having only been established three years earlier. In 1974, the City of Owatonna purchased the campus of the former Minnesota State Public School for Dependent and Neglected Children, which had been in operation from 1886-1945.

That same year, the OAC was founded as a 501©(3) corporation under the direction of Mary Leach, with artistic flair added by Marianne Young. So, essentially, the arts center and Durben — a recent college graduate — grew up together.

Because the OAC was so callow, it had no longstanding traditions, freeing Durben and others to try unconventional ideas. The community was receptive to audacious suggestions, and a minimal budget essentially forced such inventiveness.

“I want to invite people to be challenged by art, but the goal is to stretch our understanding, not to insult people,” Durben said of the exhibits the OAC has hosted through the decades. “Art is a creative journey you’re on to discovery.”

“There are individuals who would say that Silvan’s presence is the primary reason the arts center continued to exist through the last 40 years,” Burmeister said. Durben is “one of a kind.”

Durben “is the Owatonna Arts Center,” Sharon Stark, who has been involved with the OAC “since day one,” said earlier this year. He’s made the OAC into “Owatonna’s living room.”

Durben deflects credit for the arts center’s success, however, instead lauding a local “community that has made everything possible.”

“So many people have given so much to the arts center, and they need the pat on the back,” he said. “They should be celebrated, not myself.”

“We get to work with the best people,” he added. “They’re passionate about the arts and want to share their love.”

The celebration will run from 1-4 p.m. and include several musical guests, as well as snacks and refreshments, said Srsen, who is helping organize the event. Lonna Lysne will play piano initially before giving way to Dave Williams on guitar, who will then take a short break for a few presentations; following those speakers, Williams will play again, and then Bev Cashman will perform on the piano beginning at 3 p.m.

The biggest challenge next Sunday will be pulling Durben away from his regular duties to enjoy the party for a few hours, Srsen said good-naturedly. “We’re planning for a lot of people to attend.”