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How do we measure the value of the Great River Shakespeare Festival? I asked the company this question on the  rst day of rehearsal. What we can measure we pay attention to, and what we pay attention to we can make better. We live in the age of big data, so what does the data say about the value of a Shakespeare festival? has a great study online and it turns out, from an economic standpoint, the arts give a pretty good return on investment. GRSF creates jobs and brings tourists to the region. Improved quality of life raises real estate values and makes it easier to attract skilled employees to Winona companies. We can even talk about improved test scores for students exposed to the arts. All this is good, but does it measure the true value of the Great River Shakespeare Festival? Are these the reasons we gather to hear these plays?
This summer at a sandwich shop in downtown Winona I received both a sandwich and a question about sonnets from the young woman behind the counter. In the aisle of the grocery store I was engaged in a discussion about why Claudio doubted Hero and why she forgave him. A woman who had experienced the loss of a young person told me how much Romeo and Juliet meant to her. At a concert in Minneapolis this fall a stranger said, “You’re that guy from Winona. Let’s talk about Shakespeare.”
We’re Minnesotans. We can talk about the weather with anyone, but here in Winona, we’ve given ourselves another option; a chance to talk about what it means to be human. Last summer we watched Tom and Laura struggle with their mother. We witnessed the Friar and the Nurse try to help their young friends grow up, and we saw Claudio and Benedick struggle with honor, loyalty and love. We had classes for young Shakespearean actors and designers and for retired people from across the country. We listened to author Tim Federle and sent our teaching artists into local schools—and we talked about it all. Conversation by conversation we got to know each other in unexpected ways. We learned a bit more about ourselves, and we saw each other more clearly as fellow members of the same community.
Along the way, we sold tickets, we balanced our budget and we attracted new visitors to Winona. Perhaps there is no tangible way to measure the true value of a Shakespeare festival. Perhaps we shouldn’t try to  nd one. The data we can measure matters, but the true value comes from our human experiences, and we will continue to create thoughtful, challenging human experiences for seasons to come.
Doug Scholz-Carlson
Artistic Director

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