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Lost Treasures Found Music Conservatory of Sandpoint

Updated: Aug 9, 2023

The art of ‘Creative Placemaking’ at the conservatory By Jillian Chandler

“Academically, I am an archaeologist. I am really a treasure hunter, an Indiana Jane,” laughs Karin Wedemeyer, founder and director of the Music Conservatory of Sandpoint. “But artistically, as an opera singer, I’ve chosen to be a Joan of Art.”

The Music Conservatory of Sandpoint (MCS) has been an inspirational asset to the community since opening its doors in 2009. A decade later, in 2019, it would make its new home in the historic old City Hall building on Main Street. “It was our dream to restore this building and to find the original bell that once hung from the bell tower,” remembers Karin. In the spring of 2021, with the help of the Bonner County Historical Society & Museum, the bell was found at an antique store in Spokane. Karin rushed right over, used her crafty negotiating skills, and purchased the one-ton bronze bell from the owner that same day.

“It was a deeply emotional experience when I rang it for the first time,” Karin recalls. After rebuilding the bell tower and reinforcing the roof, the bell will be lifted back up and returned to its rightful place. (Currently the bell can be found at the museum, out front in Lakeview Park.)

“Creative placemaking” is an integral part of the conservatory, living in a historic building and capturing its historic charm and glory as a home/shelter for their talented and inspiring students and staff. This includes restoring and preserving the architectural integrity of the building. Finding the bell was just the beginning of unearthing historic treasures.

They also discovered, with the help of the museum and local historian Nancy Renk, articles about the existence of a music conservatory in downtown Sandpoint dating back to 1908. “We struck gold!” Karin recalls saying when first hearing the news. “We found this to be absolutely astounding—considering that at that time there may have been just a handful of conservatories, if that, in the United States.”

In April of 2023, the excitement continued, as Karin was contacted and told that the original announcement of the opening of the Conservatory of Sandpoint on September 21, 1908, appeared in the form of a framed document at an estate sale. The Music Conservatory of Sandpoint also opened its doors in September—and it is quite possible on the exact date as well.

“It is also worth mentioning that an opera singer, Olivia Dahl, was involved in providing a rare recital of Bel Canto Arias for its opening. As an opera singer, I find this astonishing,” smiles Karin, who believes the ghost of Olivia still seems to be present at the conservatory.

People crave active, dynamic stories, and MCS is one such story that continues to unfold. “There are so many stories in a historic building, from the past and the present, and for MCS, we’re transforming this building into what it used to be—highlighting the stories of the past and the present so they can be told in the future. That’s really what’s happening,” states Karin. “We need to look at this building as a treasure and continue to uncover its history and share it with the community.”

If we all pay attention to what’s around us, rather than just glance, wonderful treasures will be discovered. “I want everyone in Sandpoint to become a treasure hunter,” encourages Karin.

MCS’s formula of combining a historic building with a school of performing arts and a vision to expand that model and its philosophy, and its success, is truly rewarding to Karin. “Hearing the students and the staff perform and finding treasures all around me—some of those treasures are our teachers—or artifacts is more than I could have dreamt of.”

Karin invites you to stop in for a tour and listen to the music. And if you are interested in helping with MCS’s Creative Placemaking project, don’t hesitate to come by and see her.

Music Conservatory of Sandpoint 110 Main St. Sandpoint, ID 208.265.4444

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