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About Us

Our Mission

The Minnesota Conservatory for the Arts exists to provide quality arts education and performance by nurturing and encouraging artistic expression in children and adults. Our service to the community ranges from recreational to pre-professional performing and visual arts curriculum and programming designed to provide physical and aesthetic benefits, heightened self-respect, discipline, and confidence.

Introduction and History

The Minnesota Conservatory for the Arts began in 1973 in a one-room dance studio under the direction of Stefannié Valéncia Kierlin as The Ballet School.

Mme. Valéncia Kierlin attended the School for Extraordinaire Children Ext. Sorbonne University, the Paris Opera School, and L Ècole des Beaux Arts. She held an M.F.A. in Fine Arts and an M.A. degree in Languages and Literature from Sorbonne University, Paris and the Universidad de Carabobo, Venezuela. Mme. Valéncia Kierlin danced professionally with Ballet de Cámara, Ballet Repertorio, Briansky Ballet, Conservatorio de Danza-Rosario, L’Opera Ballet, and Rochester Chamber Ballet.

Mme. Valéncia Kierlin created a full ballet curriculum for her students, which in later years expanded to include contemporary dance forms and additional performing and visual arts programming. Many of Mme. Valéncia Kierlin’s concepts for instructing dance are still used today in classes at MCA.

In addition to technique class offerings at The Ballet School, Mme. Valéncia Kierlin also established, Children in Concert, providing her students with performance opportunities. Otherwise known as “CHiC,” Children in Concert was a small children’s dance troupe that toured throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin in addition to giving local performances. Throughout the years, Mme. Valéncia Kierlin’s vision grew larger, inviting guest artists to Winona and eventually encompassing youth and young adults of a variety of ages. In 1995 “CHiC” was renamed the Dance Repertory Company and included close to 100 members.

With the untimely passing of Mme. Valéncia Kierlin in 1999, MCA gained a new artistic and managerial staff. Mme. Valéncia Kierlin’s family and the board of her education foundation selected Christine Martin and Tammy Schmidt as directors.

Mrs. Martin and Ms. Schmidt served MCA together for more than a decade creating new and exciting programs while remaining true to the artistic vision of the school’s founder. Under this new direction, MCA started a holiday tradition for the Winona and surrounding communities presenting the DRC’s biennial full-length production of The Nutcracker as well as The Sugar Plum Fairy Tea Party.

MCA became an affiliate program of the SMU School of the Arts in 2003 and the DRC expanded by creating a junior performing troupe, the Dance Repertory Company II (DRC II), featuring the younger students of MCA.

In 2006 a task force was created to develop MCA’s music division.  Music programming at MCA began in 2008 offering enhanced music education and performance opportunities for students in Southeastern Minnesota.

On August 1, 2023 MCA officially became a part of Cotter Schools - expanding arts opportunities for the community.

Our Land Acknowledgement

We would like to acknowledge that our classes and performances take place on the ancestral and traditional lands of the, Sauk and Meskwaki, Wahpeton, and Očeti Šakówiŋ.  These and the surrounding nations remain the original, current, and future protectors of the land on which we stand today. We recognize the colonial settlers that took this land through predatory treaties. We honor the histories of this land before colonization. MCA commits to going beyond a written statement and investing in continued efforts to acknowledge and support the past, present, and future of Indigenous community members and artists in our organization.


Jacque Paulsen

MCA Director/Mission Integration & Accreditation