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Elemental Body: A Dance Film Journey

Sydney Swanson poses in an expressive dance pose in a sunlit forest.
Photo by Dahli Durley

Sydney Swanson, a dancer and choreographer based in Rochester, MN, recently completed an ambitious new dance film project titled “Elemental Body” with funding from a SEMAC grant. This 12-minute site-specific piece allowed Sydney to build upon her previous experience in dance film while pushing her artistic boundaries.

As the sole performer, Sydney choreographed, directed, and edited “Elemental Body” with the goal of exploring West African spiritual practices centered around the elements of earth, water, fire, nature, and mineral. While much of her prior dance films utilized improvisational work captured on a phone camera, this project required much more extensive planning and coordination.

Filming took place at different sites within the beautiful Quarry Hill Park in Rochester, with Sydney’s younger brother, Bradey Swanson, acting as videographer. Despite challenges like chilly weather, the sibling team’s dedication paid off, including her brother donning waders to capture footage in a stream. Sydney also hired Joni Griffith, a Minneapolis-based singer, multi-instrumentalist, movement artist and sound designer to bring her full vision to life.

The SEMAC grant funding proved invaluable, providing the time, space and resources to create “Elemental Body.” This is Sydney’s second SEMAC grant for a dance film project, which she credits with furthering her skills, artistic career, and recently helping her secure a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board.  

Sharing the film with audiences has been both a vulnerable and exciting experience for the choreographer. “One of my favorite parts of the process is hearing feedback from audience members after they view my film. It’s both nerve-wracking and thrilling to share art with an audience and hear how they related to it or didn’t. I find I learn more about the subtleties and synchronicities of my work when I hear what others saw in it…the observations come from this really human experience place,” Swanson remarks. Audience feedback revealed how they related to the “micro-macro, earth/human bodies, nature via layers/time/elements/connection” depicted in the film’s outdoor settings. Comments praised the “fresh and new” perspective on familiar nature paths and the desire to “dance for her and with her!”

Sydney Swanson presents her film "Elemental Body" in front of an audience with a projector screen behind her.
Photo by TLP Photography

Thanks to her Minnesota State Arts Board grant, Sydney will showcase “Elemental Body” in a series of six dance film screening events around southeastern Minnesota from September 2024 through February 2025. The screenings will feature other Minnesota-based dance artists alongside her work at venues like Rochester’s Pop’s Art Theater and the Winona Art Center.

For more information on Sydney and her future screenings and initiatives, visit her website, or find her on Facebook at Insite Arts & Healing.

Cultural Connections Through Art at Project FINE

Three posters promoting each workshop event: from left to right, Puerto Rican Bomba Dance, Mexican Corn Husk Dolls, and Hmong Story Cloth
For over three decades, Project FINE has
been a beacon of hope and support for refugees and immigrants in Winona County and the surrounding areas of Minnesota. Founded in 1990, this nonprofit organization has dedicated itself to helping newcomers integrate into the community, providing essential services such as foreign language interpretation, education opportunities, and empowerment initiatives.

With a small but dedicated staff, volunteers, interpreters, and extensive collaboration with over 70 local service providers, Project FINE has been instrumental in breaking down cultural and language barriers that often prevent newcomers from accessing critical resources, securing employment, and building a new life in the community.Children dance in a circle with their instructor

One of Project FINE’s most impactful initiatives is the Cultural Arts & Ancestry project, which aims to empower refugees and immigrants to share their artistic skills and heritage with the broader community. Funded by the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council (SEMAC), this program promotes cultural learning and arts experiences while engaging diverse artists.

In 2023, Project FINE’s Cultural Arts and Ancestry Project focused on three fine-art classes: Puerto Rican Bomba Dance, Mexican Corn Husk Dolls, and the Hmong Story Cloth.

Bomba y Plena, a dance style from Puerto Rico, was led by instructor Chalymar Martinez, who moved from Puerto Rico to Winona in 2018. Martinez not only taught these workshops for the community but also formed a small dance troupe that rehearsed and performed at the 2023 capstone event. The troupe’s enthusiasm and dedication were remarkable, and they have continued to rehearse and perform, taking their talents to local events and elementary schools to share their heritage.

Workshop participants assemble corn husk dolls

Project FINE has been offering similar arts programming since 2012, with over 600 participants in workshops and more than 2,200 attendees at their events. The organization’s commitment to fostering cultural connections has remained steadfast, and funding from SEMAC has been instrumental in allowing them to continue their work.

Looking ahead, Project FINE has secured another grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board to provide similar workshops and cultural experiences. The organization remains committed to its mission of fostering cultural connections and promoting artistic expression among diverse communities, ensuring that newcomers have a platform to share their talents and traditions.

To learn more about Project FINE’s services and initiatives, visit their website, follow them on Facebook, or reach out to

Bringing a Local Story to Life: Reflections on Staging “Return Engagement” by Kathleen Kenney Peterson

The recent production of Winona-based playwright Kathleen Kenney Peterson’s “Return Engagement” at Theatre du Mississippi was an incredibly rewarding and collaborative experience for all involved. Return Engagement tells a deeply personal story about an older gay actor’s struggle with Multiple Sclerosis and his need to move back to his small hometown to receive help from his estranged family. After eight years in development, seeing the play come to life on stage exceeded Peterson’s expectations.

Michael Fitzpatrick of the Great River Shakespeare Festival anchored the cast and lent his generous spirit. His involvement drew enthusiastic crowds, but also established cross-generational bonds that continue today. 

The process was not without challenges. The team navigated COVID protocols during rehearsals and worked hard to fine-tune the script. The result was a testament to what can be created by a dedicated cast and crew working together. Experiencing a solo writing project being transformed into a vibrant, fully embodied performance was a humbling and energizing experience for Peterson. 

Beyond achieving her artistic goals, the most moving part of the project for Peterson was realizing how the play’s themes resonated universally. Chronic illness, caregiving, aging, and reconciliation are issues many people face. “After every single performance, we had audience members walk out in tears…so many folks shared stories of their own struggles with exactly the kind of issues and situations in the play,” Peterson remarked. “We also had some amazing comments in surveys about being gay in a small town, losing spouses to chronic illness, and the huge challenges with caregiving.” It was a powerful affirmation for Peterson of why she writes – to reflect shared struggles.

This experience has fueled Peterson’s creative momentum. Energized by the cast’s feedback, she is expanding one of her previously published novels into a new play. Return Engagement also increased her visibility as a regional playwright. But most rewarding for her was crafting art that moved the community and donating some of the ticket revenue to Elder Network in Winona. “When art opens eyes, hearts, and conversations – that is everything.” 

Congratulations to Kathleen Kenney Peterson on her wonderful, impactful achievement. We look forward to seeing more from her in the future!

Follow Kathleen at

Vibrant New Mural Transforms Underpass in Downtown Rochester

Rochester artist Maggie Panetta recently completed a colorful mural along the busy 4th Street bike path in Rochester, Minnesota, thanks to an Individual Artist Grant from SEMAC. Entitled “Zumbro River Underpass Mural”, the mural brightens a previously dim concrete underpass between 4th and 3rd Streets.  


Maggie designed the mural to incorporate public art into a highly trafficked area of the city that connects many downtown businesses and where it can be appreciated by pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers. The vibrant, abstract foliage and organic shapes pop against the concrete background.  

One of Maggie’s objectives in the mural project’s creation was bringing the community together. Maggie held public painting sessions during which she invited people from all walks of life to join in, including Mayo Clinic patients and visitors, seniors, youth, and passing cyclists. A highlight was the participation of a painter who was in Rochester rehabilitating from a hand and arm injury. He used Maggie’s mural project as an enriching opportunity to incorporate art into his therapy by volunteering to help paint several sections.  


The public dedication on October 28, 2023, at the Rochester Art Center commemorated the mural’s completion. For years to come, this vibrant new public art mural will greet travelers along this busy downtown corridor, brightening both the physical space and the spirits of passersby’s. All thanks to Maggie’s creative vision and funding from SEMAC. 


To learn more about Maggie, visit or find her on Instagram at