School board strives to add diverse voices to performing arts center naming issue

Board members as well as community members will take another look at the submissions suggested for the district's new 1,200-seat performing arts center.

The performing arts center at Brainerd High School in February 2021. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Naming process 2.0 is underway for the new Brainerd Public Schools performing arts center.

After soliciting name suggestions for the 1,200-seat auditorium from the public, school board members decided in March to table the issue, as the three name choices brought forth by a task force did not elicit overwhelming enthusiasm.

Of the dozens of name suggestions received, the task force proposed the Brainerd Lakes Center for the Arts, or some version thereof, with an option to take out “lakes” or add in “performing.”

Cori Reynolds, director of community education, gave the board several options Monday, April 12, of how to move forward, whether that means asking for more community suggestions, having the task force that weeded through the original names revisit the submissions or add more members to the task force.

While Reynolds said she was willing to go in any direction board members directed, she reminded them everything has a cost.


“I’d just like to throw out there that there is an opportunity cost to anything you direct us to do. Any time we spend on this is time we can’t spend on other things,” Reynolds told the board. “... This is a very busy season at Brainerd Public Schools, and we’re a limited communications staff, and none of this stuff just happens. There’s no magical switch to flip. It takes work to think about it and then to deploy it and then to monitor it.”

Since the community survey asking for names has closed, staff has still received six new name ideas, which board members seemed to agree should be considered.

Board members previously expressed misgivings about the makeup of the task force that weeded through the names — thanking them for their work, but worrying about the high percentage of district staff members and lack of diversity.

“In the end, one of the pieces that I have to bring to the table is my three children — fourth grade, fifth grade, seventh grade,” said board member Charles Black Lance, who is a member of the American Indian community. “The question is, did anybody represent their voice that was originally whittled down those names? And I don’t see that as an intentional error but perhaps an oversight — an eyebrow-raising oversight and something that we can hopefully fix.”

Board Chair Bob Nystrom — who was on the committee — said while there were many district employees on the committee, the names themselves still came from community members, and all of the suggestions were considered, including those of Native American origin. He added many of those at the table were arts instructors who will be using the space quite a bit.

“I support the original name,” Nystrom said. “So the question is, do we want to put all this work on our staff when we’re going through a pandemic?”

Superintendent Laine Larson praised Reynolds for the time she put in as the leader of this initiative and said she thought the process was “incredible.”


“I felt that everybody that came to the table that day was very sincere and passionate about wanting to get the best name that they could,” Larson said, admitting that none of the original names brought forward really wowed her.

“And that’s OK. It doesn’t have to wow me to be the name,” she said, adding that the committee could still perhaps throw in two more different names to give the board more options to choose from without piling too much more work on Reynolds.

RELATED: Brainerd Lakes Center for the Arts leads name suggestions for new addition
Board members Jana Shogren and Kevin Boyles suggested that idea as well, with Boyles describing the three original options — all variants of the same name — as different shades of gray, while Shogren said she did not want the task force to feel picked on in any way just because the board may have been overwhelmed by what felt like only one choice.

“Could we ask that group for their feedback on the additional six (submissions) just to see where they weigh in?” Shogren asked. “Maybe they’ll be really excited about one of the additional six.”

In regards to more diversity, Shogren said maybe adding board members to the mix could help.

Nystrom and board member Tom Haglin suggested the board take a look at all the names submitted and come back with their top three choices and discuss it amongst themselves. Black Lance said he could get on board with that but reminded the board he himself cannot represent all the diversity in the Brainerd lakes area.

“I’m happy to represent part of that diverse voice, but it’s important to me that we have a voice that represents others in this community,” Black Lance said, noting the board likely does not have the time to find and represent every diverse voice in the community but should at least do what they can.

Haglin agreed with the sentiment but said he feels it’s his job just as much as Black Lance’s to represent all the diverse voices of the community.


“It doesn’t matter the color of our skin, or gender. I take that very personal that I have to represent everybody,” Haglin said. “And that’s why I’m interested in looking at all the names that were submitted.”

While Black Lance said he knows all the board members take their job of representing diverse community members seriously, he noted that there are different lenses through which the world is viewed — lenses board members may not have but would be good to take into account.

Larson mentioned those on the district’s equity advisory task force could bring some more diversity to the table, and the board agreed to ask that group to discuss the issue at their next meeting, which was scheduled for Tuesday, April 13.

The equity advisory task force, as well as board members, will look at all 60 names that were submitted, while the original naming committee will consider the new six and will add two new names to their top three for the board to consider.

Board members will discuss the issue again at their May 10 meeting.

Shogren added the performing arts center already has a sort of unofficial name, as many have been referring to it as the PAC for a while now, so if nothing else, that acronym can at least be a nickname for the center.

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


Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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