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Diamond Lake man to build communal music and arts center on his property

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Mark Haen is all smiles as he talks about the music and arts center he is building on his Diamond Lake property, 11 acres of woodland the background. (PHOTOS BY DAN BURDETT I TRIBUNE)2 / 2

If you blink while driving the narrow road that snuggles up to Mark Haen’s Diamond Lake spread, you may easily miss the empty plat that sits opposite.

After all, on this muggy Monday it’s merely a layer of flattened dirt, the infant stages of a project delayed by a soggy spring.

But give it three months.

“Look at that backdrop,” Haen says, bouncing enthusiastically and pointing to the 11 acres of woodland he owns that neighbor the site. “A place that has remained completely untouched by man. It’s going to be something.”

Haen’s carefree and witty makeup hit you instantly. His ambitious thread, however, is harder to spot.

Years of industrious labor and a diligent approach to investing in real estate have afforded him the freedom to fully explore a myriad of artistic passions: music, photography and a ballooning appetite for painting.

And his latest undertaking is his most enterprising yet: the construction of a communal station for those with a penchant for the same diversions he holds dear.

He hasn’t figured out all the details. But he’s not sweating it.

“It’ll all fall into place,” he says.

THE BEGINNING

Haen’s journey into the arts began in February 1964 with a simple declaration: “Ladies and gentlemen, The Beatles.”

“I was hooked,” Haen says of the legendary British group’s American debut on The Ed Sullivan Show, a performance viewed by 73 million people. “It was life-changing.”

A guitar and veracious impersonations of Ringo Starr would soon follow.

Over the years, he recorded solo jams and a few jingles, played in bands — once backing up the late-1960s teen sensations The Monkees — and helped his son nurture a shared curiosity about all things music.

As a love of pop segwayed to bluegrass and the blues, Haen began to experiment with other instruments; drums, ukulele, banjo, piano and harmonica.

For a while, he owned Audio Signatures, a music business and recording studio in Olivia, where he offered lessons and took marketing jobs on the side. The latter sparked an interest in graphic design and photography, and led to a near-20-year career as the media specialist for Altimate Medical, a durable medical goods manufacturer based, of all places, in the Renville County village of Morton, population 392.

Four days a week, Haen stays at a property he owns in Olivia and commutes to his office, where he oversees the company’s promotional efforts and marketing campaigns.

“It’s been an awesome fit for me,” Haen said. “ … both financially and in terms of my interests. I get to create on a daily basis.”

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT

Eighteen months ago, Haen began painting.

He was instantly hooked, dropping $300 on a hefty easel and a bag of acrylic paints.

He then set up shop in his home recording studio — an oversize nook with stone and wood finishes — set back from his driveway and beneath a studio apartment he and his wife, Kathy, make available to seasonal renters.

“The thing I love about art is that you can experiment and never really mess up,” Haen says with a hearty laugh. “With the abstract images that interest me, it’s all trial and error.”

He was rather prolific, too.

A dozen of his pieces currently hang in North American State Bank on Willmar’s First Street, a site popular with local artists seeking exposure for their work.

He will host an open house at the bank from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. June 3.

“It took me about a year to kind of understand what I was trying to do,” Haen says, “ … but now I’m in a place where everything is rewarding.”

NOW, BACK TO THOSE WOODS

Haen beams when he talks about what he envisions for his new project.

He refers to it as a music and arts center, and says the space will be grouped with a double garage and second-floor living quarters that will provide rental income to offset the building’s construction costs.

“Or the wife and I will just move above it and rent out the house,” he deadpans.

He didn’t discuss the project’s budget and finer details, nor if he’ll offer art or music lessons as a side gig. Instead he described the site as a place for budding musicians and artists to “come and show off their skills, interact and see what happens.”

The center will feature Haen’s own guitar collection — 16 at last count, with room to expand — his artwork and photography.

“The center is a kind of build-it-and-they-will-come theme,” he says “Look, we have a great base for the arts around here. Art is strong. Willmar has a good music base. My son plays in a band with guys from Renville, Olivia and Bird Island. There’s heavy interest in these things. What’s not to like about this stuff. Music and art is creative and it makes life worth living. I want to celebrate that.”

For more on Haen’s projects, please visit his website: markhaen.com. The website contains links to his artwork and MP3 music recordings.

Dan Burdett

Dan Burdett is the community content coordinator at the West Central Tribune. He has 13 years experience in print media, to include four years enlisted service in the United States Air Force. He has been an employee of Forum Communications since 2005, joining the company after spending two years as the managing editor of the Redwood Gazette and Livewire in Redwood Falls. Prior to his current position, Dan was the presentation editor at the Tribune.

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