FAIRMONT– New local programming is something to look forward to in the new year. Four organizations in Fairmont: Fairmont Community Education and Recreation (CER), The Red Rock Center for the Arts, the Martin County Library and the Fairmont Opera House all have plans to bring new offerings in the new year.
CER Director, Stephanie Busiahn said one new thing they’ll be trying is putting out an online exclusive brochure. Traditionally CER has sent out two printed brochures each year.
“It’s available for people to look at online and everything is available to register for through the webstore,” Busiahn said.
She said that by having a digital brochure, they can continue to add new classes. And there are new classes to add, thanks in part to CER’s newest employee, John Bartscher, who came on in August.
“We’re trying to get some variety out there for kids to do after school. We have a bunch of new stuff coming in January and a couple things starting up in February,” Bartscher said.
CER plans to launch Home Court next month which will teach children new games to play. Bartscher said it focuses on team work and strategy. A new escape game will also be added for older kids. CER is also starting up an after school board game club.
Busiahn said CER’s goal is to find things that kids are interested in and that will keep them active and engaged, especially after school.
“We hear a lot that kids go home and sit and watch TV or play video games after school. We’re trying to fill that spot with something more active and exciting,” Bartscher said.
As CER provides opportunities for people of all ages, Busiahn said they’re looking to add new offerings for adults, too. They plan to keep offering sip and paint classes, which were just introduced this year.
“We’re hoping that the adult co-ed volleyball league takes off,” Busiahn said.
CER has also expanded its adult basic education classes by adding an EL (English Learner) class on Wednesday nights. Busiahn said they will continue to add new items through the spring and summer.
CER is also focusing on multi-generational activities and would like to plan more in the future.
As always, Busiahn said they’re open to suggestions. She encouraged anyone with ideas to reach out to the CER office.
“We don’t want to duplicate and offer the same things… but fill the gaps of what’s not currently offered,” Busiahn said.
The Red Rock plans to focus more on art education. Director Sonja Fortune said they felt that there was a need there and that’s what prompted them to hire an on-staff art teacher, Ashley Haake, this past fall.
“With art education, we’re trying to do a monthly art studio which is a drop-in morning… it’s an opportunity for kids to utilize the art rom and supples us to create something,” Fortune said.
The open art studio will always be held on the second Saturday of the month from 9 to 11 am
Along with the open art studio, the Red Rock Center plans to continue consistently with a gallery walk. Fortune said it’s something that they started back during Covid times which incorporated visual arts and creativity. It’s an after school opportunity that falls on the second Wednesday of the month from 3:30 to 4:30 pm
“We’re in the walk zone… kids can come with a parent, an older sibling or on their own. We do a scavenger hunt which encourages them to look at the art work in the gallery and then we have a couple make and take projects,” Fortune said.
Fortune said Haake has also been leading craft projects for adults. That just started with crafting pumpkins in October, decoupage signs in November and wreaths in December. Going into the new year, Fortune said they plan to keep doing monthly craft projects for adults. She stressed that they wanted to reach people of all ages.
“It’s a great opportunity for adults to socialize and meet other people,” Fortune said.
Haake also teaches monthly craft projects for youth, which also started in October and the plan is to keep those going monthly as well. They’re split into three different age groups to better accommodate different skill levels.
A goal with the craft project is to keep it affordable so people will want to try new things. Fortune said right now it’s around $20 but in the future they want to start looking for business sponsorships or grant funds.
As for visual art shows, Fortune said they’re finding that people aren’t as ready or willing to travel. While they used to do one show a month, they’re having artists keep their work in the gallery for six weeks.
“We need more people coming to look at the visual arts and engage. We do have people in the area who are creating… we’re all about bringing people together to enjoy the arts whether it’s through education, music or the visual arts,” Fortune said.
Red Rock also plans to continue with its concert series and will continue the free summer concerts if they get grant funding. Fortune said Red Rock’s board of directors would have a strategic planning meeting in February to look at their goals moving forward.
The library is currently planning to carry many programs from this year into 2023 including but not limited to Mini Monday, Play Cafe, Lego Club, Classic Movie Mondays, craft programs, as well as other adult and family events. In addition to these programs the library is in the final stages of planning a new series of arts and culture events which will run through 2023.
These events would use funds from the Minnesota Clean Water Land and Legacy Amendment distributed by the Minnesota Arts and Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage fund through the Traverse des Sioux regional library cooperative. The library is still in the process of submitting grants and plans for these events are subject to change.
As plans currently stand, the library will hold one new program every month featuring a visiting expert or artist. Some possibilities include authors, visual artists and musicians. These visitors would then play a concert, teach a class, or facilitate some other kind of interactive program or performance.
Organizers hope to bring something of interest to everyone over the course of the year.
“I didn’t want to bring in something too expensive and was of no interest to the people here so I tried to do a variety,” said Fairmont outreach librarian Chris Hasek.
In person programming at the library fully resumed earlier this year and organizers are still adapting to the impacts of the pandemic. While library director Jenny Trushenski characterized the past year’s programming as a success, she also acknowledged the library is operating in a different environment since the start of the pandemic.
“It’s been a learning experience for us again, building that back up, learning what works for people, when is a good time to have programs, what days, and what people are looking for. We’re just trying to grow that and reach as many people as possible. We love to see people who aren’t our everyday library patrons in for a program,” said Trushenski.
The pandemic has led to larger changes for the Fairmont Opera House and the performing arts industry. After seeing record attendance in 2019, in-person performances were completely stopped at the start of the pandemic. As restrictions on public gatherings have gradually rolled back, smaller rural venues such as the Fairmont Opera House were some of the first to re-open, but in 2022 larger venues have also reopened bringing an influx of competition for organizers which is not always matched by a rising amount of eventgoers.
As a result the opera house is considering changes to its upcoming performance season which would allow for more flexibility for event planners and attendees. These changes may persist, but the opera house still hopes to attract pre-pandemic amounts of attendees.
“It’s really how the industry is trending. How do we continue to do what we do, stay relevant, stay impactful in the community, and just change up a few things? It’s maybe for the short term or maybe it’s things that become part of what we regularly do,” said Executive Director Blake Potthoff.
Due to these trends the opera house may begin to operate at a different scale during its upcoming performance season; events may try and bring in smaller audiences while not being scheduled as far out in advance. While this could result in a few big budget productions, Potthoff believes this model will bring its fair share of benefits by making it easier to schedule events while providing more room to experiment and improve.
“We’re trying to be mindful of how do we not overextend ourselves, not overextend our community, while still providing the things we’re excellent at providing while also giving ourselves the flexibility to … try new things,” said Potthoff.
One different kind of performance would be something resembling October’s community production of The Most Massive Woman Wins, a show which explored more mature themes with fewer performers while seating audience members on stage.
“I think having that smaller, more intimate black box-type setting is something we want to continue to explore because it’s more intimate and you can share some of those stories that are more challenging or difficult,” said Potthoff.
Another idea for a future performance would be an event similar to the gala held in November of 2021.
This new performance policy may bring with it changes to the opera house’s subscription ticket passes giving attendees the option of getting more tickets for fewer performances instead of spreading seats out over the course of the season.
Planning for the upcoming season remains ongoing and Potthoff emphasized he was seeking additional community feedback through a variety of channels such as social media drop in visits during the venue’s office hours.
The Fairmont Opera House’s ongoing performance season will continue into this spring and will feature the youth theater’s Christmas Shorts in the first week of January followed by the traveling performances of Pete the Cat’s Big Hollywood Adventure and the returning One Night in Memphis. February and March will respectively feature concerts performed by the acapella group Six Appeal and the ensemble Dallas Quartet. In April the season will be concluded by performances by Heartsong and Friends, B2Wins, Axiom Brass, and the Junie B. Jones children’s live show.