For a couple of months now, art galleries, concert venues, libraries, museums and theaters across the state of Minnesota have stood empty, their lights dimmed by a pandemic that is still sweeping across the nation, claiming lives and for some, livelihoods.

When she was working in her office at the Cultural Center in New York Mills, program director Cheryl Bannes was struck that there was a show on display in the center's gallery that no one aside from staff members had seen for two months.

"It’s always been hard for me to accept the idea that the arts are nonessential, especially during this time," Bannes said. "I've still been coming in to the gallery for work, and it just has a completely different feel when a gallery that is supposed to be filled with people interacting and engaging in the arts, is empty."

While talking with a colleague at the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead, Bannes realized that she wasn't the only one feeling that way. That feeling served as the spark for a new photography project, "When the Arts Went Dark."

She sent out email messages to her colleagues in art galleries, theaters and museums across the state asking them to send in images of their closed venues.

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"I was reading an article about how the animals miss the people at the zoo (during the shutdown)," she said. "I kind of feel that way with the arts. ... I think the exhibits miss people just like the zoo animals. Art is so emotional — visual art, performance art, it doesn't matter. Art speaks to us, and it has no one to speak to — it's lost its impact; the feeling is gone."

Bannes is hoping that the photos submitted for the project will evoke that sense of emptiness. "What impact do the arts have when there's no one here to see it?" she said.

"It is a very different feeling that I hope can be captured in photographs," she added. "You have to be in it (i.e., the empty venue) to get the full impact, but I hope the photographs can evoke some of that feeling for the people who see them."

Though she plans to first make the exhibit available digitally, Bannes eventually hopes to make it a traveling exhibit of printed photographs that can be shown at some of the participating venues. She is in the process of writing grant applications to obtain funding for the project.

Bannes is requesting that photos for the exhibit be submitted in digital format, with at least 300 dpi resolution, and in sharp enough focus that they can be made into either 11-by-14- or 16-by-20-inch prints. The digital photographs can be emailed to

The Cultural Center planned for a limited opening Wednesday, May 20. Those planning to visit are asked to wear masks, and observe social distancing protocols. For more information, call 218-385-3339 or visit