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Backstage pass: Margaret Hurlbut Vosburgh is woman behind the scenes at many arts-related events

WORTHINGTON -- As manager of the Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center in Worthington, Margaret Hurlbut Vosburgh wears a lot of hats -- figuratively, not literally.

On any particular day, she may be found promoting tickets for an upcoming production, on the phone trying to book an event, hosting a facility full of students, surveying patrons about their entertainment preferences, mopping floors backstage or any number of other activities that may or may not be encompassed by her job title.

And she loves just about every minute of it, even though she sometimes has to remind herself of how much.

"This is pretty incredible," she reflected. "How fortunate can I be to move back to the area I grew up in, land a job in my field and be able to work with some of the most incredible volunteers in the community as well as artists from all over the world?"

Margaret was born on a farm and spent her early years in Wilmont, just north of Worthington, where her parents owned the local café, bowling alley and pool hall.

"I got 10 cents a line for setting pins," she recalled about her first job.

She attended school in Wilmont through the 10th grade and graduated from Worthington High School. Although she already had an interest in the arts back then, she initially chose another career path.

"I graduated from Mankato Beauty School in '69," she said. "My father thought I should have a job with which I could support myself. ... My first job as a beautician was at the Sun Ray Center on the east side of St. Paul. It's still there."

An urge to travel prompted Margaret to hitchhike to California, where she lived for a couple years in a bungalow about a block from the boardwalk in Santa Cruz. Another bout of wanderlust took her to the Florida Keys before she returned to Minnesota to attend her godchild's baptism in Owatonna, where she spent the next 10 years.

"I was a beautician for about 15 years, until I turned 35 and decided to go back to college in Mankato," Margaret said. "I got my undergraduate degree in arts education, K-12, and have a master's degree in arts administration and business management."

While attending college, Margaret got her feet wet in the areas of grant writing and arts promotion by working at Mankato's Carnegie Art Center and as the program director for the Blue Earth County Historical Society. Her own focus of interest, artistically, was in fiber arts, and she had her first weaving studio set up at the Carnegie building.

At a softball game in Worthington, Margaret met her future husband, Mike Vosburgh, and their first date was on the golf course. They were married in 1990 and have one son, Adam, now 15.

Margaret became the Memorial Auditorium manager in 1995, the first time the facility -- which is owned and operated by the city -- had such a position. Although her past experiences in the arts world served her well, it took some time to focus her energies.

"I had a vision -- then and still. I wanted to be able to present the best of local talent and the best of talent from around the world," she explained, adding that she'd helped in a similar capacity at a theater in Owatonna. "I had always been involved with the visual and performing arts. It probably took about a year to get my feet on the ground here and establish a season."

Curating a season is one of the three primary objectives Margaret set for herself at the auditorium. In addition, she focuses on audience development and trust and looking toward the facility's future.

"When I'm planning for a season, I try to embrace the chaos that comes with managing this facility by paying attention to the people and world around me," she explained about her first initiative. "For instance, during the middle school concert and The Dance Academy performance when there are over 500 students, parents and families in and out of the building for rehearsals and over 3,000 people in the building over a two-week period for performances, I'm working feverishly to tie up loose ends on contracts and talking with sponsors and working on the upcoming season brochure layout and artwork. That's the time to talk to people, find out what they think and what they might want. Some days, people will just stop me to chat about the auditorium and give me ideas related to marketing and promotions."

Margaret takes pride in offering season tickets with reserve seating and programs that encompass a variety of artistic disciplines. She said people are pleasantly surprised to see offerings such as a ballet company on the upcoming schedule or a concert featuring a group as well known as the Vienna Boys Choir, which will be coming to Worthington later this year. Her most notable booking was the Minnesota Orchestra.

"We had 92 musicians on our stage," she said. "And they spent a week in our community. Every student in our district had an opportunity to see them at some point."

Her job requires a lot of public contact, both with artists and patrons, and Margaret also plays a role as an ambassador, talking about the auditorium and the arts in the community.

"One of the most important parts of what we do here is building trust -- trust that when they purchase a ticket they're going to come here and see something that is beneficial to them, something that's educational, something that's entertaining, because there's nothing like the live arts. ... One of the things I want to do is provide an experience when they come to the auditorium, an experience outside of the performing arts experience."

With that "experience" factor in mind, Margaret has a wish list for the auditorium -- more bathrooms, a reception space, air conditioning, a bigger lobby, meeting rooms, maybe even a coffee shop.

"Just keeping the building in working order is an ongoing process," she said of the art deco structure that dates back to 1932. "Renovation needs to happen to facilitate our progressive behaviors."

When she's not focused on current auditorium programming or the facility's future, Margaret finds some time for her own artwork, occasionally doing some weaving. Her latest project is a self-portrait, the body woven from clothing once worn by her mom, her dad, a close friend, husband Mike and son Adam. The head is shaped from wood with metal hair, and family pictures have been attached to resulting sculpture.

"I'd like to eventually do one for Mike, one for Adam and for my brothers," Margaret said.

Margaret is also an avid gardener, and as a family, the Vosburghs have an interest in fishing, tennis, soccer and, of course, the arts. This weekend, Margaret is lending her talents as a concert scheduler and promoter to the Worthington Windsurfing Regatta and Unvarnished Music Festival while Adam will be an impromptu performer. She's helped with the music component of the celebration for about the last five years.

"I helped develop contracts, do the schedule for the main stage," she said of her duties. "I greet the artists when they come, see what they need."

Margaret also strives to include an educational component amidst the festival atmosphere, finding musicians who are willing to teach workshops -- which are free to the public -- during the Regatta.

"It is an opportunity for kids, and adults, to explore the arts and to meet people," she said. "Arts don't mean just putting on a concert."

The arts are also about community involvement, which Margaret can relate to her work with both the Regatta and at the auditorium.

"To take that many volunteers and have them work toward making us all feel good about where we live -- I think it's phenomenal," Margaret said about the Regatta. "I think it's going to be one of the better ones we ever had, and I love seeing kids being part of it. They learn about community involvement, about volunteering our time for something that's really important to our community. ... They need to live in their communities, not just their houses."

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

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