When MankatoLIFE was first setting up their Attractions Directory, there was confusion about the difference between the Emy Frentz Arts Guild and Twin Rivers Council for the Arts. It turns out it was a common dilemma. It was Amanda Wirig who came to the rescue with an explanation.

“People have not been able to differentiate between the Emy Frentz Arts Guild and Twin Rivers,” Wirig said. “Everybody just assumes they were both the same thing. When Twin Rivers was in its formation process, they needed a home. Tony [Frentz] created the Emy Frentz Art Guild not only to house Twin Rivers but to pass on the legacy of his mother.”

Emy was really big on helping younger artists succeed and helping them move up in the world. Tony wanted to leave a bit of her legacy and help other people the way she did.

Wirig went on to explain that Twin Rivers Council for the Arts (TRCA) was the backbone tenant of the Guild and managed the gallery as well as the artists spaces while maintaining two, distinct, organizations.

Wirig has been involved with TRCA since the early days. “I got involved with Twin Rivers ten years ago when I moved into my studio at the Guild. I’ve worked with the organization in various roles. I’ve done front desk work. I used to help with ticketing for offsite events for the Symphony and the Ballet and things like that. I’ve taken part in arts festivals that Twin Rivers has done, and I’ve worked with every single executive director that the organization has had through the years. I have a long history.”

Earlier this year, when Twin Rivers moved their offices to the Hubbard Building in Old Town, it was clear the Emy Frentz Arts Guild would have to redefine itself.

Edna M “Emy” Frentz

Photo courtesy of Tony Frenz - Edna M (Emy) Frentz – Born in Dallas, Texas in 1946. Died in Mankato, Minnesota, 1990.
Photo courtesy of Tony Frentz – Edna M (Emy) Frentz – Born in Dallas, Texas in 1946. Died in Mankato, Minnesota, 1990.

Emy Frentz was born in Dallas, Texas in 1946 later moving to Mankato. She attended Minnesota State, Mankato and taught art in the community.

Her son, Tony, offered, “She had cancer on and off for the last ten years of her life. If you look at her artwork you can see when she felt well or was very low on energy — in the mediums she used and what she wrote in her work — she used a lot of words in her work.”

He continued, “My mom was a very emotional, animated, and passionate person, so however she felt at any certain time was exactly how she projected herself to people she interacted with and in her art. She had a very large vocabulary and loved quoting from different sources.”

Wirig added, “Emy was really big on helping younger artists succeed and helping them move up in the world. Tony wanted to leave a bit of her legacy and help other people the way she did.”

Painting by Emy Frentz from her Opera Series entitled “Eugene Onegin,” an opera by Tchaikovsky finished in 1878 based on a novel of the same name by author Alexandar Pushkin.
Painting by Emy Frentz from her Opera Series entitled “Eugene Onegin,” an opera by Tchaikovsky finished in 1878 based on a novel of the same name by author Alexander Pushkin.

The Emy Frentz Arts Guild

When Twin Rivers was forming, Tony stepped up to provide a home and to continue his mother’s legacy.

Photo by Don Lipps – Resident artist, Margie Larson working on a cold way painting.
Photo by Don Lipps – Resident artist, Margie Larson working on a cold wax painting.

According to the November 16, 1940 Mankato Free Press, the building that would become the Emy Frentz Arts Guild was begun that year, after many years of planning, by the members of the Christian Science fellowship that had been active in Mankato since 1898. From another Free Press article dated June 6, 1942 the building was completed in 1941 and dedicated in 1942.

“I bought the building in 2006,” Frentz recalled. “The idea of having an arts guild started on a Mankato city planning trip to Fort Collins, Colorado. During that trip we saw an arts guild that inspired me to start one in Mankato. After getting back I started looking around for a building.

“I had a friend whose mother was a member of the Christian Science Church and they were just getting ready to proceed with selling their building and it worked out as they were absolutely great to work with.”

Photo by Don Lipps - Coral Bjork assisting resident artist, Ginger Neilan of Bobbles & Bobbies, by assembling earrings.
Photo by Don Lipps – Coral Bjork assisting resident artist, Ginger Neilon of Baubles & Bobbies, by assembling earrings.

“If you walk through here, you can actually see bits of architecture that still have the church feel,” Wirig said. “We have the old lights that used to hang in the sanctuary above the studios. There’s a studio where the organ loft was. There’s a little office where the rectory was. You can still see bits and pieces of its history.”

“Tony is wonderful,” she added. “He put in the artist studios, he put in the gallery. He’s a huge champion for the arts. He’s always doing what he can to support the arts and the nonprofits in the Mankato community. He’s been fantastic to work with.”

Under the management of Twin Rivers, the Guild hosted many artist exhibits, provided meeting space for affiliates, as well as continued hosting of artist studio space. “We have a wide variety of artists in here,” Wirig said. “We have a jewelry maker, we have painters, drawers, we have a massage therapist now. We actually have a couple of studio spaces open for anyone who is looking.” The Guild also provides office space for organizations including the Mankato Symphony Orchestra.

New Executive Director

Amanda Wirig - New Executive Director of the Emy Frentz Arts Guild
Amanda Wirig – New Executive Director of the Emy Frentz Arts Guild

With a Masters Degree in Non-Profit leadership the clear candidate for leading the Guild into the next phase of its existence was right under their nose.

Wirig said, “When Twin Rivers talked with Tony and told him they were going to be leaving he asked for suggestions. Noelle [Lawton] knew that I had a degree in non-profit leadership, so I was one of the names that came up. Tony talked to me and asked, ‘Do you want to do this? Do you want to make the Arts Guild into a non-profit?’ This is basically my dream job. I’ve been looking for a job like this for years. It just fell into my lap and of course I was going to do it!”

A Mankato native, Wirig described the meandering path that brought her to this point, “I’ve done a lot of volunteer work with arts nonprofits, not only Twin Rivers but with the St. Paul Art Crawl. I’m part of the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars so every year I get to go to DC and I get to review the arts applicants and choose which kids go to the White House. I’ve done paid opportunities and fundraising opportunities for the Arts Guild and Twin Rivers.”

I’ve been looking for a job like this for years. It just fell into my lap and of course I was going to do it!

Additionally, along with normal dues-paying-activities like working retail at Barnes and Noble, Wirig taught art and music at Kato Public Charter School for four years as well as offering private music lessons for 15 years.

“All of that has led me to where I am now, where I have all this diverse experience under my belt, and I can take it all with my education and actually do something with it to move the organization forward.”

She Goes On - 2015 - Amanda Wirig - 36x36 mixed media on canvas
She Goes On – 2015 – Amanda Wirig – 36×36 mixed media on canvas

Among her many other qualifications, Wirig is an artist herself. “I’m a painter and a mixed media artist. I specialize in retro pop art. So, I’m very inspired by mid-20th century stuff. Pop culture advertisement and that kind of thing. But I also incorporate some politics, feminism, my love of music and weird pop culture things. So, it isn’t just straight up advertising. There’s always a subversive message and I try to incorporate a lot of humor.

“I focus on the things that I love. I was trying to find a way to incorporate all the things I love because there isn’t enough time in the day to do everything. If I can make paintings about my record collection or what it’s like being female in this day and age, you know things like that, I can add more of my personality and my interests to it and make it more fun.”

Lots of Ideas

Regarding plans for the Guild, Frentz said, “We want it to be more interactive and feel even more inviting. We plan to have more shared working areas, open spaces for collaborating and getting together, and bring more of the public in.”

Photo by Don Lipps - Sample from current exhibit by Kyle Fokken, "Animalia."
Photo by Don Lipps – Sample from current exhibit by Kyle Fokken, “Animalia.”

“We’ve divided our plans into two phases,” Wirig offered.

“Phase One is going to be redecorating. We’re looking at repainting, getting new furniture. We’re doing some repairs to the building. Just making it a more comfortable place for people to come in if they want to have a meeting in the conference room, if they want to use it as a co-working space. It’s going to be a bright, vibrant, creative space to be in.”

“Down the road, when we are able to raise enough money, we would like to remodel the building,” she added. “That may involve going up a second story and adding more studio spaces. Eventually we would like to move the gallery to the [Second] street side of the building and replace the facade with glass so people can see in and give it a modern feel.”

I would also really love to start up a Greater Mankato Region one day art crawl like they have up in the cities…. The idea is to make arts tourism more of thing in the Mankato area

“There are a lot of things in the works,” she said. “I would like to have open studios once a month to coordinate with the openings in the gallery, so we have more to do when you come to an opening. We’re looking at eventually having a weekly music night. We would love to get bands and visual artists and poets and people like that from outside of the Mankato area as well as from within the community. I know there are a lot of artists from the Twin Cities that are looking to come down here and they’re just waiting for the right venue.”

“I would also really love to start up a Greater Mankato Region one day art crawl like they have up in the cities. It’s one day where you can visit all the arts organizations in this area, Mankato and St. Peter and whoever else wants to be involved. You can see artists in their studios. You can buy art. The idea is to make arts tourism more of thing in the Mankato area.”

“Having studio space is still a big priority because it’s hard to come by in Mankato,” Wirig said. “I also want to create more of the feeling of a real arts guild where the artists are working together so there is a sense of community and not just a bunch of separate artists working in their own little spaces.”

Lots of Opportunity

“We’d like to have artists come in for talks, educating the public on why it’s important to buy art and trying to take out that stigma that art is just an elitist thing. It’s actually for everybody not just a rich few. Anybody can be an art collector,” Wirig said.

I want to make Emy Frentz Arts Guild a cool place to be!

“There’s a large variety of people in our area that haven’t been the focus of arts programming. We have a chance to include programming for immigrants, minorities, differently-abled people and people who may not normally be involved with the arts or any kind of cultural activities to let them know what’s available and what Mankato has to offer.”

Wirig and Frentz are in the process of converting the Guild into a 501(c)(3) organization. In the meantime, Mankato Area Foundation is serving as fiscal sponsor and donations can be directed there.

When asked to sum up the plans for the Guild, Wirig said, “We’re in a unique position right now being that we’re so new. I think there’s a lot of potential here and I think we are going to be able to do a lot of good for the arts community and I’m excited for the possibilities. I want to make Emy Frentz Arts Guild a cool place to be!”

Author’s note: Thanks to Mike Lagerquist and the folks on the Facebook Group Mankato Memories for the information on the history of the building.

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Don Lipps
is a long-time resident of Mankato and North Mankato. He's been doing web development almost as long as there has been a web. He and his wife Tina have 5 grown boys and two daughters-in-law.