Gardner Humanities Trust created 30 years ago

The Donald G. Gardner Humanities Trust was created by the City of Ely in 1989. ”And to-date, the Trust has disbursed grant awards totaling nearly $779,000 to individuals, organizations and events in Ely,” stated Trust executive director, Keiko Williams. “This is super exciting to be celebrating 30 years of giving arts funding to our community and to see all the wonderful impact for individuals and youth, as well as, all the super programming that has occurred due to our grant awards.”

This all started, first, with Donald G. Gardner in the 1940’s. Gardner, a businessman from Ohio, purchased a cabin and became a summer resident on Ojibway Lake, then called Twin Lakes, in 1941. Gardner was an art collector and also a philanthropist who donated a painting to the City of Ely in 1944 titled ‘Breakfast in the Garden,’ painted by Frederick C. Frieseke. The painting was hung in the Ely Public Library in 1945.

Forty years later, in the mid-1980’s there was some interest in the painting and what its value might be. After several inquiries, a gallery in New York made the offer of $510,000 and the painting was sold. Lee Tessier, Ely city clerk; Bill Defenbaugh, Ely city attorney and artist; and Judy Fredrickson, owner of the Bois Fort Art Gallery; were instrumental in creating a proposal to create an arts trust versus other practical ideas of resurfacing city roads.

The stock market did well through the 1990’s and the Trust was able to award some big grants to benefit the Ely community. In 1995 the Trust helped pay for the creation of the bandshell in Whiteside Park. Several years prior the Trust helped pay for renovations to Washington Auditorium. There were a lot of grant awards for arts in the schools due to the formation of CAPP (Comprehensive Arts Planning Program) in 1987. Denise Drechsler was one of several people instrumental in organizing the committee of teachers and townspeople with the purpose to support and enhance arts in the school. The Trust grant awards were often matching funds for CAPP as they received funding from the State Arts Board and the Alliance for Arts and Education to pay for school plays/musicals and artist-in-residence programs; including block printer Bill Jeter, sculptor Seitu Jones, folk musician Ross Sutter, dancer Jean Peck, lost wax caster Bob Wilde and writer Ken Meter. Many other artists have come into the schools since then, courtesy of the Trust, to enrich the arts experience for the youth of Ely.

The Gardner Humanities Trust will be celebrating its 30th year at the annual Breakfast in the Garden event on Saturday, August 3. The event hosts art demonstrations and art projects that everyone can participate in, both adults and children, from 10am until 12 noon at Whiteside Park.

The purpose of the Trust shall be for the enhancement, growth and improvement of:
1. The Ely Public Library
2. The arts and artisans of Ely and surrounding area, to include the performing arts, the visual arts and literature.
3. The creating and funding of scholarships, educational and artistic grants.
4. The cultural and aesthetic environment of the City of Ely and its surrounding area.