It’s no secret that the Minneapolis thriving arts community is the envy of many cities. But perhaps what’s not well known is the history behind our great cultural scene.

Luckily, an event this Thursday night promises a personal account of the history of our great arts community, plus the legends that made it all possible.

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Meet John and Sage Cowles. If their names sound familiar, it’s because they’re responsible for everything from the Guthrie Theatre’s arrival in Minneapolis to the Barbara Barker Center for Dance at the University of Minnesota.

The stories these arts advocates have between them are not only inspiring and remarkable, they’re enough to make us all a little more proud to be a Minnesotan — or at least that’s the hope.

Margy Ligon, director of personal enrichment programs in the college of continuing education at the University of Minnesota, said the evening with the Cowles is all part of a seven-part monthly series called the LearningLife Forum — a program and lecture series focused on the great history of our fine state.

And when it comes to the world of culture and arts, Minnesota’s history must begin with the Cowles.

For more than 50 years, theater goers have enjoyed the range of shows pouring into the Guthrie — from the classics to the contemporary.

“John Cowles was one of a group of civic leaders who convinced Sir Tyrone Guthrie to locate his theater here and it basically started regional theater,” Ligon said. “Since then, John and Sage have been very instrumental in making this area just a really vibrant performing arts community, not only in theater but also for dance.”

Sage Cowles — namesake of the local dance honor, the “Sage Awards” — was a former Broadway dancer, was instrumental in establishing the Barbara Barker Center for Dance and the re-opening of the Minnesota Shubert Center as The Cowles Center for Performing Arts and Dance.

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Tom Fisher, dean of the U of M College of Design, will moderate the discussion with the Cowles, starting with their role in the arts community and the affect they’ve had on the design and aesthetics of that community.

“They’re very humble about all of this,” Ligon said. “They probably wouldn’t just get up and talk about this.”

After the live interview, the public will have a chance to ask the living legends questions about their remarkable journey through the arts.

Ligon said they hope people will come away from the experience with a better understanding of the foundations that make the Twin Cities one of the most nationally recognized communities for arts and entertainment in this country.

“People have art envy of the Twin Cities all over the place and we hope people will have a better grounding in the history of why it is that we are such a vibrant arts community,” Ligon said. “And (we hope) they really come away inspired, and to think of ways they could contribute to the community, if it’s something that they value and would like to see continue.”

The evening promises to enlighten and entertain, and even warm and comfort (coffee and desserts are provided), but most of all, to give everyone a history lesson that could perhaps inspire the next visionaries to keep the future of the arts thriving in our hometown.

“We have a lot that we can learn from John and Sage about how to do it right,” Ligon said.

The event takes place at 7 p.m., Thursday at the Continuing Education and Conference Center (1890 Buford Ave.) on the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased by calling (612) 624-4000. They can also be purchased at the door, however, seating is limited.

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Sara Boyd is a web producer and columnist at WCCO.COM.