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Arts community celebrates OAC director

Silvan Durben, owatonna, portrait, arts center,
Silvan Durben shares his gratitude with friends gathered Sunday afternoon to celebrate his 75th birthday and unveiling of a portrait created by local artist Al Smith. Durben has been director of the Owatonna Arts Center for more than 40 years. Staff photo by Joni Hubred
Joni Hubred, News Editor

Silvan Durben isn’t used to being the center of attention.

Truth be told, the long-time Owatonna Arts Center director would just as soon stand back and let the spotlight shine on volunteers and artists. But on Sunday–well, he didn’t have a choice.

Friends and family gathered at the OAC to celebrate Durben’s 75th birthday and the unveiling of a pencil portrait drawn by local artist Al Smith.

“I’m overwhelmed and extremely honored,” said Durben, who has led the OAC for more than 45 years. “I’m just so thankful and grateful.”

Long-time friends Dede Zamboni and Mary Butler Fraiser unveiled the portrait. Zamboni said she first saw Durben walking with her twin sister Jean, who passed away earlier this year, in the garden of their Owatonna home.

“When she came in, I asked, ‘Who’s that you’re showing around?’ She was interviewing Silvan for the position he has been in for 40-some years,” Zamboni said. “I really think of him as the Arts Center, that’s just the way it is. Silvan has been special in our lives, and we count him as part of our family.”

That was also true for Fraiser, who said she grew up with Durben. He convinced her to get involved with the OAC 35 years ago.

“We’ve done many things together, from making blackout curtains to setting up for Pastimes (art and fine craft sale),” she said. “He’s a wonderful friend. He’s a wonderful man.”

Smith said Durben “has brought to Owatonna the highest level of art. He raised the standard of art and for that, I am most grateful.”

Over the years, Durben said, he has been humbled by the community support of “all the wonderful and crazy things we do at the Arts Center. We try the impossible, and without you, it would not be possible.”

He attributes his 45-plus years in the local arts community to his personality and a love for what he does.

“Everyone has been so good and so very generous, and I get to work with a variety of individuals,” he said. “As I walk through the building, there are things our volunteers have done and made and built. The artists are very honored to come.”

As he approaches his mid-70s, Durben shows no signs of slowing down. He believes people should just continue enjoying doing the things they’re good at, the things they enjoy.

“It not only keeps you young and vital, but hopefully, there’s something worthwhile to offer to the community and your friends and family,” he said. “You’re only as old as you want to be.”

The OAC has more of Smith’s work on display. He first took up drawing as a child but had stopped for many years. After friend Jim Klukas asked Smith to draw a portrait of him several years ago, he said, “I began to draw with a passion and fervor that didn’t stop. All of my drawings started because my friend Jim wanted a portrait.”

Smith said he and Silvan both grew up in Austin and attended St. Augustine High School, today known as Pacelli. Zamboni, a sister of St. Francis, taught there as well.

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