About Us

Mission & History

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.

Our 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.

Most recently, MCA launched a visual art division and is building on its theatre division offerings. Today, MCA offers a full spectrum of the performing and visual arts, nurturing and encouraging artistic expression in hundreds of children and adults in Southeastern Minnesota.

Our Organization

The Minnesota Conservatory for the Arts (MCA) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 1973. For over 40 years, MCA has provided programming and performance opportunities of the highest level of artistic and educational excellence. To be successful we rely on the time and generosity of our volunteers and donors to sustain the quality of our productions and programs, while still keeping our offerings accessible and our fees affordable for all families.

Our Programming

The Minnesota Conservatory for the Arts (MCA) offers programming in multiple areas of the arts including dance, music, visual art, and theatre. From classes, to workshops, to private lessons and instruction, we are an all-inclusive, equal opportunity organization, providing a nurturing environment, encouraging artistic expression and growth in children and adults in Southeastern Minnesota. View our  full Accessibility Plan and information. 

Our Equal Opportunity Policy

Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Conservatory for the Arts adhere to the principal that all persons have equal opportunity and access to admissions, employment, facilities, and all programs and activities of the University and organization regardless of race, color, creed, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, disability, age, marital status, or status with regard to public assistance.

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.

What Makes Our Dance Program Unique

The dance program at the Conservatory is unique to most dance studios for a number of reasons. First, we have a program that integrates many art forms, allowing dancers to be well-rounded and to appreciate the connectedness of all of the arts.

Secondly, MCA has a very well-established curriculum in its dance program, which includes a syllabus, learner outcomes and a thorough written assessment of each dancer at the conclusion of every session. This is the standard for all dance disciplines taught, including: ballet, pointe, modern, jazz, tap, and hip hop dance.

Third, MCA’s dance program does not participate in competitions, nor does it do recitals. The Conservatory puts on a biannual Nutcracker, as well as a full-length performance every April. This production is either a full-length story ballet, or contemporary dance concert choreographed by a variety of professional choreographers from across the region. For the winters in years that there is not a Nutcracker, MCA produces a dance showcase in our black box theatre for the younger dancers, as well as pieces choreographed by students that have taken the Choreography class at the Conservatory.

Lastly, MCA is an affiliate program of Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota’s Department of Theatre and Dance. Students at the university, or those taking a post-secondary option for high school, can get university credit towards their major, minor or PE credit, when they take an upper level MCA dance class. Our younger dancers also get the opportunity to perform in main-stage university productions, due to this connection, such as The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Cinderella, Le Corsaire, etc. New in 2017 Dancers will be invited to apply for induction into the Junior, Secondary and Collegiate Chapters of the National Honors Society for Dance Arts (NHSDA), thought MCA’s Membership in the National Dance Education Organization (NDEO). MCA is the first Collegiate chapter in the state of Minnesota.

Our Apprenticeship Opportunities

Students who have taken classes with MCA in the past and are interested in continuing their education may apply for an Apprenticeship. Apprentices are responsible for assisting the instructor with several tasks including: the participation in each assigned class, individual demonstrations for the class, and acting as a class leader, and any and all additional responsibilities listed in your agreement. Students who serve as apprentices with be rewarded a discount off their own MCA tuition. The tuition discount amount is that of the class that you apprentice for. This discount will be credited to your account and will be applicable for a year.

If you are interested in applying for this unique privilege, please email us at MCA@smumn.edu for an application.


Minnesota Conservatory for the Arts
1164 West Howard (10th) Street
Winona, MN 55987

Phone: 507-453-5500
Fax: 507-453-5507

E-Mail: mca@smumn.edu

Contact Us



Monday - Thursday- 9:00am-3:00pm and 3:45-8:00pm

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday- Closed


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This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a Minnesota State Arts Board Operating Support grant, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.

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