About Us

Mission Statement

Tofte Lake Center is a retreat for artists, scholars and leaders wishing to expand and deepen their creative work inspired by nature in a collaborative, communal environment. All activities stem from the inherent belief that individual creativity is the essential tool in our evolution as a culture.

TLC Director

Liz Engelman

 Liz and Jai!

Liz and Jai!

Liz Engelman is a freelance dramaturg and the founder and director of Tofte Lake Center at Norm's Fish Camp. She is currently splitting her time between Ely, MN and Austin, TX, where she teaches in the Theatre and Dance Department at the University of Texas- Austin. Most recently, Liz lived on Whidbey Island where she was the Alumnae Relations Coordinator of Hedgebrook, a retreat for women writers. Liz has served as the Resident Dramaturg at Mixed Blood Theatre, as the Literary Director of the McCarter Theatre, the Director of New Play Development at ACT Theatre in Seattle, Washington, Literary Manager/Dramaturg at Seattle's Intiman Theatre, and as Assistant Literary Manager at Actors Theatre of Louisville. She has worked on the development of new plays at The Playwrights' Center in Minneapolis, Bay Area Playwrights Festival, ASK Theatre Projects, New York Theatre Workshop, the O'Neill Playwrights Conference, South Coast Rep, Denver Center, and Florida Stage. She has directed new plays at The Illusion Theatre, Mixed Blood Theatre, The Playwrights' Center in Minneapolis, and Carleton College. She studied dramaturgy and new play development at Brown and Columbia universities, where she received her BA and MFA in theatre and dramaturgy, respectively. Liz is the co-editor with Michael Bigelow Dixon of several collections of plays, a book on playwriting exercises, and of two volumes of monologues with Tori Haring-Smith. Liz has served as President, Board Chair and is a current board Member of LMDA, Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas. She serves on the Advisory Board of the National New Play Network and is a member of the New Project Group of ITI.

Tofte Team

Operations Manager and Program Assistant

Dave hunsche and Thea Sheldon

Dave and Thea.jpg

Dave and Thea have happily contributed in many capacities to the development of Tofte Lake Center over the past eight years. Dave’s long history and experience with tool-making, rebuilding large machines, serving as a wilderness technician for the USFS, working as a carpenter on new home construction crews and most recently serving as a certified massage therapist, continue to help him meet the operations, property maintenance (and relaxation) needs at TLC. Thea delights in working side-by-side with Dave. In her program assistant role at TLC, Thea offers over thirty-five years of professional experience: coaching, teaching, training, and rigorously developing people's potential for growth in the education, government, non-profit and corporate sectors. Thea has owned her own business for 25 years and is a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach. Together Dave and Thea are passionate in their commitment to help fulfill the mission of Tofte Lake Center.

Board of Directors

 TLC's Board of Directors 2017

TLC's Board of Directors 2017

Kevin Bitterman

Director of Institutional Advancement & Partnerships, TCG, NY, NY

Bernadette Christiansen

Vice President of Administration, The McKnight Foundation, Minneapolis, MN

Liz Engelman

Director, Tofte Lake Center, Ely, MN and Austin, TX


Executive Director, the Ann Bancroft Foundation, Minneapolis, MN

Sharee Johnson

Silversmith Jewelry Artist, Ely, MN

Randy Reyes (VICE CHAIR)

Artistic Director, Mu Performing Arts, Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN

Jennifer Tatsuda (CHAIR)

Business Manager, Northern Clay Center, Minneapolis, MN

Steve Woodring

Director and Fly Fisherman, Louisville, KY

Our Story

Through The Years

Tofte Lake Center was founded in 2007 by Liz Engelman and Michael Bigelow Dixon. TLC is lovingly referred to as Norm's Fish Camp, in honor of the resort’s previous owner, Norm Saari, who built and operated a fishing resort there for more than four decades.


2007 TLC's first year was devoted to adapting the facilities of Norm’s Fish Camp for creative activities. We offered informal pilot programs for individual artists-in-residence and to groups collaborating on artistic projects.


Our 2008 season marked TLC's first full summer of artistic programming. Residents included playwrights, scientists, poets, painters, anthropologists, choreographers, directors, blacksmiths, dancers, journalists, sculptors, and a museum curator. It featured an invitation-only reading and post-play s’mores discussion of Newsman’s Dream Comes True: Film at 11 by Graydon Royce, playwright and critic at The Star Tribune. We kicked off our first public event with a moveable feast/site-specific work by Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater, a national Minneapolis-based dance company. The piece, Rooms of Disquiet, guided the 20 audience members around the 12-acre site of Norm's Fish Camp.


2009 included new play workshops, site-specific theatre-making, new dance, music, and opera composition, and landscape art projects. Featured highlights were a performance concert of the Ancia Saxophone Quartet playing work composed by TLC composer-in-residence Jeff Herriott, and the return of the Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater Company, which shared a sneak preview of Tales from the Book of Longing, which subsequently premiered at the Guthrie Theater in October, 2009. 


In 2010, we launched our Emerging Artists Program, sponsored by the Jerome Foundation. Thanks to their generous support, we dedicated 3 weeks of programming to offer artistic residencies to 21 emerging artists from both Minnesota and the 5 boroughs of New York. The Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater Company returned to offer community workshops in caregiving and ballet and launched their state-wide touring season with a performance of selected work from their repertoire in Ely’s Washington Auditorium. We initiated our Master Classes and Workshops with renowned Minneapolis mosaicist Lisa Arnold’s Mosaic Retreat and visual artist and chef Anna Dvorak’s Creative Space Retreat for women who shared the intention of developing their art- be it visual, literary or performance. The Sandbox Theater gathered for their first organizational retreat at TLC.


2011 featured the second year of our Emerging Artists Program, and two week-long Master Classes and Workshops, bringing back Lisa Arnold’s Mosaic Retreat and Anna Dvorak’s Creative Space Retreat, and inaugurating Deep, Rich and Bold for Women Leaders and Entrepreneurs, led by certified life coach Thea Sheldon. The Sandbox Theater held a second organizational retreat and The Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater Company returned to create and perform a community-developed piece called Cast from the Water’s Edge: The Boundary Waters Project, which was performed by a combination of members from the Ely community and the SPDT company at Vermilion Community College.


2012 celebrated our third year of our Emerging Artists Program and Master Classes, with the return of Anna Dvorak’s Creative Space Retreat and Thea Sheldon’s Deep Rich, and Bold, both back by popular demand. We also hosted retreats for organizations and companies including The Playwrights' Center, The McKnight Dancer and Choreographer Fellows, as well as offering week-long residencies to artists of all disciplines. Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater Company returned to Ely's Vermilion Community College to kick off their 2012 tour.


2013 inaugurated two new Master Classes, our Visualizing Nature Workshop, taught by Holly Swift and Linda Gammell, and the Art and Nature Workshop, a week of multidisciplinary classes for local art and nature lovers. Six Minnesota artists and teachers from the visual and performing arts taught classes that focused on new technical skills in painting, craft and mosaics, as well as an exploration of mindfulness through creativity. This was made possible by support from the Minnesota State Arts Board and the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council. 

We also built The Aerie, our new dance-friendly rehearsal and performance space. The space was inaugurated with a performance by Ely's own Accidental Ensemble and hosted the Minneapolis quartet Jelloslave and a return of Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater. Sandbox Theater Company returned for a third retreat to renew and make new work.



2014 continued our Emerging Artists Program and extended our dance repertoire to two additional Minneapolis dance companies, Shapiro & Smith Dance, and Ananya Dance Theater.  We hosted a night of Kirtan Chanting with the group Sitara & Kalyani with Pavan Kumar,  and Stuart Pimsler Dance &Theater Company performed pieces from their tour as well as their newest work-in-progress, Bohemian Grove. The Sandbox Theater artists returned for their fourth organizational retreat.


2015 inaugurated our Gaia Memorial Fellowship, in honor of TLC’s longtime artist, supporter, and dear friend, Gaia Fenna, and continued our dance residencies with returns of TLC veterans Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater and Shapiro & Smith Dance and highlighted the visual art experience with artist Holly Swift and photographer Linda Gammell returning to lead Minnesota artists in their master class, Visualizing Nature, funded by the Minnesota State Arts Board. Multidisciplinary artist and longtime TLC collaborator Krista Walsh and past Emerging Artist Recipient Mary Bergs co-led the master class, Inside Outside, Exploring Internal and External Space. We were delighted to welcome back Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater with a full performance of Bohemian Grove. They also led an Intergenerational Movement workshop for the community in the Aerie. Shapiro & Smith Dance Company, returned to perform Hands, a newly commissioned work-in-progress.


2016 featured dance theatre and music performances in our Aerie Studio, with the return of TLC's veteran companies (Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater's Matinee went on to be performed in the Twin Cities), as well as introducing April Sellers Dance Collective to our local community. We were excited to have members of the Minneapolis quartet Jelloslave back with us for another amazing concert. The season featured Guided Workshop Retreats (formally named Master Classes and Workshops) in visual art and creativity, featuring the return of visual artists Krista Kelley Walsh for her Guided Aesthetic Residency and Susan Armington’s Refresh and Reflect in the Northwoods, continued our Gaia Fellowship residency, organizational retreats with The Playwrights' Center, the McKnight Dancers and Choreographers, and two weeks of Emerging Artists Programming. Sadly, the July storm resulted in a cancellation of the much-anticipated Shapiro & Smith Dance performance, and a week of Emerging Artist Programming. We also inaugurated weekly Yoga classes in the Aerie, open to both the Ely community and TLC's resident artists, led by Ely's Kris Hallberg and Sarah Hansen. 

2017 offered a mix of performances in our Aerie Studio, with the return of TLC's veteran company Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater’s sharing of a new work in progress entitled Terra Incognita, created by Suzanne Costello), and introducing Congolese guitarman Siama’s Congo Music, featuring “Feel-good songs from the Heart of Africa” to our local audience. He was joined by vocalist Dallas Johnson, renowned drummer and harmonica player Tim O’Keefe, and Dorothy Cowfield (aka Yukiko). We were proud to introduce The Starfolk, a chamber pop group led by Brian Tighe and featuring Allison LaBonne and cellist Jacqueline Ultan. 

To celebrate the opening of our new Visual Artists Studio (“The Doodle”), visual artist Susan Armington returned to lead her Guided Workshop Refresh and Reflect in the Northwoods, focusing on studio art and writing exercises, along with personal coaching and yoga with Thea Sheldon and Sarah Hansen. We were thrilled to introduce Feed Your Creativity, a new Guided Workshop led by playwright and performer Joanna Garner and intuitive chef and organic food professional Gretchen Lovell. Focusing on feeding the intuitive and creative “gut brain”, the workshops, meals, and play explored how to use food as a catalyst for creativity.

We continued to offer our Gaia Fellowship residency, organizational retreats with The Playwrights' Center, the McKnight Dancers and Choreographers, Individual Creative Residency Weeks, and three weeks of Emerging Artists Programming, funded by The Jerome Foundation.  Thanks to the strong interest in our weekly Yoga, we were excited to continue our second year of weekly classes in the Aerie, open to both the Ely community and TLC's resident artists, led by Ely's Kris Hallberg and Sarah Hansen.

2018 We celebrated our 10th Anniversary Season with our artists and community continually throughout the summer and early fall. Minneapolis singer Aby Wolf and her ensemble Champagne Confetti popped up all around Ely with their music, and played to a packed house in TLC’s Aerie Studio. Shapiro & Smith Dance returned for the first time after the 2016 storm interrupted their residency week, and were joined for a movement workshop by women in the Forest Service, and performed highlights from their work in the Aerie. SPDT returned for their 11th residency and performance in TLC’s 10-year history (figure that one out!!), and strings and percussion trio Ottie the Mink, featuring Jacqueline Ultan, Laura Harada, and Tim O’Keefe, brought their beautiful sounds to the Aerie.

We were excited to launch two new programming weeks: our Ambassadors Week focused on artistic leaders state and nation-wide, who gathered together to strategize how TLC can broaden our reach to artists, ensembles, and communities of color, and to brainstorm future partnerships. Our Shinrin Yoku (Forest Bathing) Guided Workshop, led by TLC friend and veteran Tom Bezek, introduced this growing nature therapy mindfulness practice to artists and creatives.

Our organizational retreat partnerships with The Playwrights’ Center and the McKnight Dancers and Choreographers continued, as did our Individual Creative Residency Weeks, and three weeks of our Emerging Artists Program, now in its 9th year, funded by The Jerome Foundation.  In response to the demand, we expanded our weekly yoga classes to two days a week, open to both the Ely community and TLC's resident artists, led by Ely's fantastic Kris Hallberg and Sarah Hansen.

We couldn’t be prouder with our 10th year!

Our 10th Anniversary Review

 TLC's first Board of Directors fledging in the Osprey... years ago

TLC's first Board of Directors fledging in the Osprey... years ago


looking Back…

As part of our many celebrations of the first ten years at Tofte Lake Center, we prepared a summary of TLC's organizational profile featuring the evolution of our programming and community engagement. Printed copies are in each cabin so current residents can enjoy the rich history that has been created at TLC  and get a wisp of the vision of what we may become in decades to come. Please take a look here.


Artists in Residence











Our Community Partners

We've learned it takes a village to support - and grow - a retreat center! We thank every business, organization and individual who has helped us become who we are today.

TLC Board 2017.JPG

food & beverages

~ Burntside Lodge

~ Front Porch Coffee & Tea

~ Insula Restaurant

~ Mike's Liquor

~ Rockwood Restaurant

~ Sir G's Restaurant

~ Zup's Grocery

Other helpers

~ A Laundry Room Inc.

~ Tom Bezek

~ Champa Taxidermy

~ Ely Optimist

~ Gloria Erickson

~ ISD 696

~ Cheryl Jahr

~ Steve Lampman

~ Joe's Marine

~ Jake Mathers

~ Northern Lakes Arts Assoc.

~ Raven Productions

~ Mike Sinesio

~ Studio North

~ The Antler Man

~ Timberjay Newspaper

~ Vermilion Community          College




contractors & property care

~ Alternative Builders

~Ben's Tree Service

~ Boreal Builders

~ Brandau Plumbing

~ Brown Electric

~ Bullseye Cleaning

~ Ely Shovel & Broom

~ G-Men

~ Hegfors, Inc.

~ K. Murphy Painting

~ L. Murphy Construction

~ Low Impact Excavators

~ Northstar Restorations

~ Rest Easy Cabins

~ Silver Birch Builders

~ Superior Property Care

~ Walsh Septic




stores & suppliers

~ ACE Hardware

~ Art & Soul Gallery

~ Bialik Firewood

~ Bloomers Flowers

~ Custom Theaters

~ Ely Design Works

~ Ely Flower & Seed

~ Hearthside Corner

~ J&L Hardware

~ Range LP

~ Serena's Carpet

~ Sisu Yarn Shop

~ The Art Corner

~ Voyageur Lumber