This dissertation examines a major transformation in the American experience of the arts through a close look at live theatrical performance in Minneapolis and St. Paul from the late 1940s through the mid-1970s. Focusing on a distinct urban center and a single art form, the dissertation examines the emergence of a new concept of urban civic theater, from a provisional model defined by participation in the creative process to one defined by professionalism, institutionalism, and participation through financial contribution and audience appreciation. This professional turn emerged from a convergence between local urban revitalization and a high level campaign to enlist the arts as a national resource, with the latter movement critical in tilting the scale toward professionalism. Through the move to this more institutional model, understandings of what it might mean for a theater to belong to the community, as well as the very conception of artistic experience itself, were negotiated and re-defined. The development of this new civic theater took place during a time marked by political democratization and aesthetic experimentation, when the traditional view of the arts is one of increasing freedom and radicalism. Indeed, the move toward a more professionalized notion of civic theater took place under the auspices of democratization of culture, during a push to decentralize the arts and expand institutions so as to allow for greater exposure to high quality work for Americans of all kinds, while freeing artistic creativity by removing the pressures of commercialism. Yet this decentralization and democratization was pursued through the creation of major professional arts institutions, especially in the newly legitimatizing regional theater, for which Minneapolis’s Guthrie Theater was a model.