Caponi Art Park will debut outdoor performance space

by Dan Gearino, Staff Writer - 28 July, 2000

Anthony Caponi doesn’t narrowly define "art" in his Caponi Art Park and Learning Center in Eagan.

"Music, plays, sculpture. Art is art," he said.

The park is midway through another season as a sculpture park as well as a performance space for music and theater ensembles. This is no ordinary season, though, as Anthony and his wife, Cheryl, prepare for the opening of an amphitheater, a major addition that will be celebrated with a Sept. 16 performance by the Minnesota Sinfonia and a Sept. 17 performance by musician and video artist David Means.

The Caponi amphitheater is almost nothing like the massive metal structure proposed in Burnsville. The cement stage is at the bottom of a bowl in the landscape. Spectators will sit on the sloped grass and enjoy the kinds of music and theater that have previously been performed elsewhere on the park grounds.

The art park straddles Diffley Road, with a pedestrian underpass connecting the two sides. On the north side of Diffley is the Caponis' home — which Anthony designed and built — an art studio, and rolling hills filled with Anthony's artwork. On the south side is the amphitheater and green space, which the Caponis hope to fill with other artists’ work in the future.

Anthony, who is in his late 70s, came to the United States from Italy in 1936. He taught art at Macalester College from 1948 to 1990. He bought 60 acres in Eagan in 1949 and has spent most of the time since complementing the hills and trees with artwork that fits into the natural landscape.

One of the most striking pieces is "Pompeii," a 170 foot-long bronze sculpture imbedded in a hillside. It represents the contorted corpses that remained after a volcano destroyed the Italian cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum in 79 A.D.Luckily, "Pompeii" and the other pieces in the park were not damaged in the recent severe thunderstorms. Anthony said that some of the landscaping in the park sustained damage, but nothing as serious as the flooding in the nearby Wilderness Run neighborhood.

The artwork in the park can be viewed Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m. through October. Admission is free. Anthony said that he tries to make the park very family oriented and encourages parents to bring their children.

The park is sponsored by a variety of public and private sources, including the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, the Minnesota State Arts Board, the McKnight Foundation and the city of Eagan.

Caponi Art Park has a full schedule of events before the amphitheater opening.

From Aug. 4 to 6, the park will host an Elizabethan Festival, featuring three plays by Shakespeare and a satire of Shakespeare. The plays will be staged at the bottom of a hill on the north side of the park.

The Cromulent Shakespeare Company will present Shakespeare’s "Falstaff" Friday Aug. 4 at 7 p.m. and "What I Wil" Saturday, Aug. 5 at 7 p.m. "Falstaff" is a slapstick comedy. "What I Wil" was written by the company and is described in the Caponi program as "a witty spoof."

The Chameleon Theater Circle will present Shakespeare’s "Twelfth Night" Sunday, Aug. 6 at 3 p.m. "Twelfth Night" is also a comedy.

All shows in the Elizabethan Festival are free and open to the public.

From Aug. 14 to 25, Minneapolis-based Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater will be in residence at the park. The residency will include camp sessions for students and workshops for professional artists and educators.Heart of the Beast will return to Eagan Sept. 10 for a 4 p.m. performance of "Web Sight," a story about youth activists from around the world that will be presented at the Eagan Civic Arena as part of the city’s multicultural festival.

For more information, call 651-454-9412.

The park is located at 1205 Diffley Road.

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