Rochester Post-Bulletin

By Randy Peterson

A week after Rochester Civic Theatre announced its 70th season, Sen. Amy Klobuchar stopped by to highlight federal support for it and other theater programs.

“We want to make sure everyone is going to have a seat at the theater,” the Minnesota Democrat said Tuesday morning during an event outside Mayo Civic Center.

Misha Johnson, Rochester Civic Theatre’s managing director, said federal support through the Save Our Stages Act has been crucial as the local organization gears up for its first performance of the new season, starting Sept. 16.

“Save Our Stages will allow us to keep our doors open for Rochester Civic Theatre, as well as nonprofit performing arts groups,” she said of the $308,693 grant the organization is receiving.

The new funds, combined with other recovery funds, are helping the theater restore two full-time positions, as well as maintaining three part-time staff members, after furloughing staff and cutting hours last year.

The federal legislation championed by Klobuchar is providing approximately $16 billion in relief to independent music venues, movie theaters, and similar cultural institutions that have struggled amid the pandemic.

The bill provides grants to cover up to six months of payroll and costs, including rent, utilities and maintenance. Applicants must have lost at least 25% of their annual revenue to qualify for the program.

The Small Business Administration, which administers the funds, reports that 230 Minnesota venues received a total of nearly $178 million, with an average of nearly $774,000 per venue. The highest grant approved in the state was at the program’s $10 million cap, and the lowest was $2,348.

For the Chatfield Center for the Arts, the funds helped overcome the need to cancel shows during its 10-year anniversary, according to Mike Speck, the organization's operations director.

“The Shuttered Venue (Operator) Grant was a lifeline, absolutely,” he said of the $70,609 grant provided by the Save Our Stages legislation.

Klobuchar said the federal support, which is unprecedented for the arts, is key because the organizations provide approximately $2 billion in economic activity throughout Minnesota during a typical year.

“We’re talking about everything from museums to theaters and the like,” she said. 

Hal Cropp, artistic director for the Commonweal Theatre in Lanesboro, said arts groups did everything they could to survive, but it frequently came with lower numbers.

The 15-member ensemble of artist administrators transitioned to virtual performances supported by federal funding, which brought in 2,200 viewers last year, when live performances were not possible. The group received $140,518 in grant funds through the new legislation.

“Of course, that’s down from 22,000 people in 2019,” he said of the six performances. 

Klobuchar said the federal support for the arts will help venues and organizations continue their work. 

“It came at a very critical time, while we are still in the pandemic, but emerging from it,” she said.

Regional support

The federal Small Business Administration reports a total of $2,271,829 was provided to 17 organizations in the eight-county Southeast Minnesota region through the Stuttered Venues Operator grants funded through the Save Our Stages Act.

The organizations are:

  • Chatfield Center for the Arts Inc., 405 Main St. S.; $70,609; live venue operator or promoter
  • Commonweal Theatre Company, 208 Parkway Ave. N., Lanesboro; $140,518; live performing arts organization operator
  • Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center, 28097 Goodview Drive, Lanesboro; $447,935; museum operator
  • Mantorville Theatre C, 5 W. Fifth St.; $35,323; theatrical producer
  • Olde Pine Theatre, 113 Second St. SW, Pine Island; $39,460; live venue operator or promoter
  • CABB LLC , 160 Tyler Road N., Red Wing; $488,441; motion picture theater operator
  • Sheldon Theatre, 443 W. Third St., Red Wing; $223,100; live venue operator or promoter
  • Goonie's Inc., 1623 Ninth Ave. NE, Rochester; $40,680; live venue operator or promoter
  • Gray Duck Entertainment LLC, 619 Sixth Ave. NW, Rochester; $6,033; motion picture theater operator
  • Rochester Civic Theatre, 30 Civic Center Drive, Suite 100; $308,693; live performing arts organization operator
  • Rochester Repertory, 103 Seventh St. NE; $50,642; live performing arts organization operator
  • Rochester Symphony Orchestra and Chorale, 1530 Greenview Drive SW, Suite 120; $16,163; live performing arts organization operator
  • Great River Shakespeare Festival, 121 E. Third St, Winona; $134,780; theatrical producer
  • Hurry Back Productions Inc., 655 Franklin St., Suite 3, Winona; $42,350; live performing arts organization operator
  • Mid West Music Fest, W. Third St., Winona; $69,876; live venue operator or promoter
  • Sammis Family Production Co., 204 E. Wabasha, Winona; $121,461; live venue operator or promoter
  • Zumbrota Area Arts Council, 96 E. Fourth St.; $35,766; live venue operator or promoter