Though Brainerd School Board members did not vote on a name for the new performing arts center under construction at the high school, the frontrunner is Brainerd Lakes Center for the Arts, or some variation thereof.

The district requested public input for the 1,200-seat facility approved as part of the 2018 bonding referendum. Community members submitted 154 entries, Community Education Director Cori Reynolds told school board members Monday, Feb. 22. Of those entries, 54 were unique and followed the district’s policy for naming buildings.

A committee made up of community members and district staff sifted through the qualifying entries and sent their final ideas to the board.

The top choice was Brainerd Lakes Center for the Arts, with the option to add in “area” or “performing” as well, so other names could be:

  • Brainerd Lakes Area Center for the Arts.

  • Brainerd Lakes Center for the Performing Arts.

  • Brainerd Lakes Area Center for the Performing Arts.

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Board Chair Bob Nystrom said whatever name the board chooses will be on the building for generations to come, so it needs a relevancy that will survive.

Reynolds said some of the key criteria informing the decision were inclusivity of all kinds of art, simplicity and specificity to the area. There was also a desire, she said, to avoid confusion with the Central Lakes College Performing Arts Center.

Brainerd School Board members discuss matters, including the name of the new performing arts center, at their meeting Monday, Feb. 22. The meeting was livestreamed via YouTube. Screenshot by Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch
Brainerd School Board members discuss matters, including the name of the new performing arts center, at their meeting Monday, Feb. 22. The meeting was livestreamed via YouTube. Screenshot by Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

Superintendent Laine Larson elaborated on the committee’s thoughts behind its recommendation after she said she heard concerns about it not being as creative as anticipated.

“Nothing really sprang out that was really different to anybody in the committee,” she said. “But there were some things that people really liked about this name.”

First, she said they wanted the geographic location in the name so the center would be easy to find.

“We’re really proud of the fact that this is in Brainerd, it’s part of the Brainerd School District and it’s located in Brainerd,” Larson said.

But by adding in “lakes” or “area,” it also shows the center is bigger than just the city of Brainerd and encompasses the whole school district and surrounding community.

Lastly, the “center for the arts” portion of the name is inclusive of all forms of arts — whether that’s visual, performing or other art forms.

“Those were criteria that this particular committee felt was important,” Larson said.

Names of people, Nystrom added, were not considered, as names that are relevant today may not be as recognizable decades down the road.

Board member Kevin Boyles thanked Larson for the explanation, as he said it was helpful to understand how the committee made its decision.

Board member Charles Black Lance expressed concern over the makeup of the committee formed to decide on the name, as there were no people of color or Indigenous people included. He said that omission begged the question as to whether the name would really be inclusive to the whole population it’s meant to represent.

Nystrom said there were many Native American inspired names considered with various meanings tied to geographic ideas like the flow of the nearby Mississippi River. Hearing that, Black Lance said his concern was that there wasn’t anybody on the committee to provide any context to those suggestions.

“I know we can’t check off all of the boxes. That would be difficult and clumsy. I understand that,” Black Lance said. “But I do believe that when it comes to people of color or even individuals with that Indigenous background that that’s something moving forward that I feel is really important.”

Nystrom said he respects that point of view.

Boyles asked if more community engagement might be needed before making this decision, and board member Ruth Nelson said it may be prudent to wait to vote until the next board meeting in two weeks to let the board think about the suggestion and talk to others in the community if they’d like.

Black Lance said he’s not necessarily opposed to the name recommendation but thought there would be more options to choose from.

Board member Tom Haglin said the part of the name he focused on was “center for the arts” rather than the “Brainerd lakes” portion, as the district has taxpayers funding the project who are spread throughout the community.

Board members will take up the issue at their next meeting March 8.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at