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Guthrie's new beginning
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Joe Dowling, artistic director of the Guthrie, is all smiles during Monday's groundbreaking of the new Guthrie Theater complex. (MPR Photo/Marianne Combs)
The Guthrie Theater Company celebrated a new beginning Monday evening. Hundreds of people witnessed the ceremonial groundbreaking on the site of its new riverfront theater complex in downtown Minneapolis. The ceremony marks the end of a long uphill battle at the state Legislature for funding, but the campaign for private donations continues.

Minneapolis, Minn. — The groundbreaking ceremony, like all Guthrie events, was filled with theatrics and fanfare. Guthrie staff, politicians and longtime supporters of the theater gathered in the late afternoon heat and sun on the site of the future theater complex.

Performer T. Mychael Rambo opened the ceremony with a song to remind everyone of the role of the Mississippi in the theater's future.

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Image Groundbreaking

Minnesota politicians celebrated the importance of the event. Speakers included Gov. Tim Pawlenty, St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly and Sen. Larry Pogemiller, among others. The Guthrie has had to lobby the state Legislature for years to get the state funding it needed to continue the project.

Perhaps no politician has campaigned more on behalf of the Guthrie than Sen. Richard Cohen, DFL-St. Paul. Now that the state has allocated $25 million in bonding money for the construction of the new theater complex, Cohen says there are some strings attached.

"Those strings are simply this -- that what I expect is that you will continue to challenge and excite us with your creativity, with your artistry and with your inspiration, as you've done for the last 40 years," says Cohen. "You do that, as I know you will, and then every last minute of this effort has been worth it."

The Guthrie has yet to raise all the money it needs to build its new complex. Out of a necessary $85 million in private funds, the Guthrie has so far managed to raise $69 million.

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Image The new Guthrie

Campaign chair Margaret Wurtele was quick to remind the audience that they still had an opportunity to be a part of theater history.

"When we open the new Guthrie in 2006, we want to be able to announce that you were among our supporters, and that you helped make it possible for all to enjoy the best theater and best theater education in the country," Wurtele says.

The complex is part of a growing riverfront development which includes the soon-to-open Mill City Museum. Nina Archabal, director of the Minnesota Historical Society, which runs the museum, presented Guthrie Artistic Director Joe Dowling with a cup of flour. She said the flour was symbolic of the Mississippi River's milling history, and also represented her promise to be a good neighbor in the years to come.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak says he's thrilled to see this next phase in the city's development.

"The Guthrie is an incredible resource. There's no way to put it into perspective. But to see this, and to see it in connection with the housing and the Mill City Museum is more than a dream come true," Rybak says.

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Image Gov. Pawlenty and others

Artistic Director Joe Dowling beamed throughout the event. The Guthrie is billing its new theater complex as an international center for theater arts and education. While Dowling says there have been many ups and downs in the struggle to make this project a reality, he's confident that it will all be worth it.

"I think it's summed up best in a quote I found from President John F. Kennedy, who said that, 'I am certain, after the dust of centuries is passed over our cities, we too will be remembered, not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit,'" says Dowling. "Today we start a great adventure for the Guthrie -- a new chapter in Guthrie history that will indeed embrace the human spirit and make it whole."

Dowling and friends donned hard hats and picked up shovels in a symbolic groundbreaking, which did not actually break ground. The true groundbreaking and construction of the new theater complex begins in October.

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