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Region's arts organizations slowly begin reopening process

Last week, performing arts centers across Minnesota were allowed to reopen at 25% capacity as part of Gov. Tim Walz’s phase three reopening plan announced on March 5.

The unexpected move provided a jolt of life for venues across the state, which have been among the hardest hit from the COVID-19 pandemic. Arts centers, theaters and other indoor entertainment venues were among the first places in the state to close.

Under Walz’s initial order, arts centers and theaters were only mandated to close until April 1. However, that date was pushed back several times as the pandemic worsened, leaving arts centers and theaters in an ever more precarious position.

By the beginning of June, Paradise Center for the Arts Executive Director Heidi Nelson said that she anticipated the thumbs up from the governor to reopen would likely not come until July or August, when later phases of reopening are tentatively scheduled to occur. Instead, Paradise staff were able to welcome friendly and familiar faces back to the historic theater on Friday. Waiting for them were a variety of works from local artists Lynette Yencho, Shawn Bagley, Elizabeth Wright, Janell Hammer, Tami Resler and Dianne Lockerby.

In total about 30 patrons attended the gallery opening. To ensure safety, the Paradise kept attendance lower by minimally promoting the event. On the whole, Nelson said that no more than 10 visitors were in the building at any one time.

Those who missed the opening still have plenty of opportunities to see the artists’ work. In keeping with the Paradise’s limited hours, it will be open to the public every Thursday, Friday and Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. from now through July 25. All visitors are asked to follow social distancing guidelines and encouraged to use plenty of hand sanitizer, which the Arts Center has successfully managed to stockpile in bulk. While optional, masks are strongly recommended.

While the opening may have come somewhat suddenly, Paradise staff have been working toward it for months. As for the current show, Operations Director Julie Fakler said that she’s been working to organize it for more than a year.

During the pandemic, the Paradise and its sister organization in Rice County’s college city, the Northfield Arts Guild, have also sought to break new ground by providing arts classes and other programming via social media.

Now, classes are set to resume at 25% occupancy at the Paradise. Yet even with the pandemic beginning to lift, Nelson said that the Paradise would continue to embrace technology to make the arts more accessible for all.

The Northfield Arts Guild is taking a slower path to reopening. Executive Director Tim Peterson said the NAG isn’t likely to open in-person exhibits until the end of July, as it works to implement a comprehensive five-phase reopening plan. That means acquiring far more cleaning supplies and protective equipment than the NAG currently has on hand, Peterson said. He promised that when it reopens, it will be transparent about the measures it’s taking to keep people safe.

Peterson said that the organization will continue to offer live and archived art gatherings, classes and exhibits online. That work has been boosted by a $10,000 grant the it received from the Minneapolis Foundation.

Both Peterson and Nelson said that their organizations have taken a big financial hit from the pandemic. The governor’s order may enable them to open sooner, but it won’t help them to recoup the losses they’ve already suffered, or even make much of a dent in future losses.

“It’s going to be a very big concern for the next 18 months,” Peterson said. “We’re facing a very different financial landscape.”

Peterson noted that about 50% of the NAG’s income traditionally comes from class registrations and other events, which have been devastated by the pandemic. Even though it can technically resume, strict limitations on class sizes will continue to be a major issue.

Nelson said that even though public performances can technically resume, the Paradise Center has postponed all events until August, and is unsure if it will even be able to proceed then. Other events have already been postponed into 2021. Still, Nelson remains hopeful that the Paradise will be able to stay afloat. The Arts Center has begun soliciting sponsorships from the business community and hopes that the generosity will see it through.

“I wouldn’t say we’re confident, but we’re hopeful,” she said. “Financially we are still struggling, but it’s wonderful for us to be able to host our community again.”

Though it has a different operational model which is far less reliant on public events, the Arts Center of Saint Peter is also looking forward to reopening its doors.

Arts Center Executive Director Ann Rosenquist Fee said that the Center would begin taking art for its annual member exhibition Wednesday. Art will be accepted until June 28, with the exhibit set to open on July 3.

Rosenquist Fee said that once the Arts Center reopens, occupancy will be limited to 10 people. In order to ensure that such occupancy levels are maintained, groups of 4-10 people are asked to reserve their space on the Arts Center’s website.

Throughout the pandemic, the Arts Center has stayed in close contact with its members to provide support. Rosenquist Fee said that the pandemic and economic slowdown, along with recent social unrest, has sparked the creative imaginations of many.

“We know our artists have been working on new things and people have a lot to say right now about the economy, the pandemic, social justice,” she said. “Now, we want to show that work until the community.”


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Memorial Pool to open July 1

Northfield’s Memorial Pool will open July 1, after the City Council approved the plan Tuesday night.

In opening the pool after a COVID-19 induced delay, Facilities Manager Jayson Dwelle said pool officials plan to limit touch points, sanitize the changing room between two-hour sessions, and remove deck chairs.

Council action came after Gov. Tim Walz’s recent change in guidelines to combat COVID-19 allowing pools to open at 50% capacity.

All sources indicate that a pool with water at proper chlorine level kills COVID-19.

Councilor Brad Ness said he received emails and personal messages from constituents who said they needed the pool to open and got statements of support from at least four swim clubs.

“This is a good option,” he said.

Councilor David DeLong unsuccessfully sought to add a fee for non-Northfield residents who use the pool. His proposal, offered in the form of an amendment, was voted down after concern was expressed regarding the logistics of the proposal.

Dwelle said the pool will do everything it can to maximize revenue, possibly by reaching out to swim clubs in other communities.

Councilor Jessica Peterson White said she was happy the city could open the pool within state guidelines. She noted the city has already faced so many losses due to the pandemic.

“It’s wonderful that we can do this one thing,” she said.

In also supporting the motion, fellow Councilor Clarice Grenier Grabau said the council must balance the social and emotional needs of students with the realities of the pandemic.

“It’s not a no-risk activity, but a low-risk activity,” she said.

In being the lone no vote, Councilor Erica Zweifel said she was uncomfortable with the increasing city subsidies for the pool. She said she would feel more comfortable with opening the pool if more traction was gained in allowing for a safe crossing on Highway 3 and if concerns she has over lifeguards’ safely socially distancing were eased.

Mayor Rhonda Pownell said she is “really proud” that swimmers will be able to exercise as sports start again.

“This is good for the community,” she said.

City staff have determined that, with the current pool capacity at 545, that 95 swimmers could be in the water and still maintain an appropriate social distance.

“The (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has seen no evidence of the virus being transmitted via properly treated pool water,” staff wrote in a memo. “Staff should use an (Environmental Protection Agency) registered disinfectant to sanitize the restrooms, high touch areas and limited seating options that would be available.”

Staff recommended an additional $30,000 above the adopted general fund reserve support amount for pool operations.

In a public comment received electronically before the meeting, Northfielder Sara French pleaded for the pool to open.

“Our kids have suffered enough this year,” she said. “They have been robbed of field trips, fundraisers, end-of-the-year parties and goodbyes, seeing friends, birthday parties, activities and basically all summer sports. They really need this. Our community, in particular the youth, need this.”

Solvei Christopherson, who worked last year on the Memorial Pool staff as a seasonal pool attendant, said although she “would love” for the pool to open, she understood the logistical problems posed by COVID-19.

“I also understand that if the pool opened for the season, it would have a lot more regulations and possible jobs employees would have to enforce at the pool,” Christopherson said. “I am more than willing to take on the responsibility, and I feel that my fellow employees would feel the same.”


The Tavern of Northfield won’t reopen until at least 2021 due to disagreements between insurance companies. (News file photo)


Elko Speedway will kick off its 2020 racing season on the Fourth of July with an event called “Racing Against Racism.” The event will be preceded by a ceremony and presentation talking about issues surrounding racism, and will be followed by a fireworks show. (File Photo)


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Fundraiser nets at least $140,000 for Northfield nonprofits

Local nonprofits are set to receive a needed financial infusion later this year thanks to a Northfield Shares fundraiser that has so far netted $140,000.

In a Friday press release, Program Manager Carrie Carroll said the organization wants to raise at least $35,000 more — $175,000.

“The nonprofit landscape in Northfield provides so many services and programs,” Carroll said. “We just want to help our community be our community.”

Northfield Shares members will ask local nonprofits to apply for assistance. In the past, grants have been awarded to nonprofits representing economic enhancement, health care, youth programs, food and housing, arts and culture, faith and elder assistance.

“We’re proud to announce that we have created the Share in Northfield’s Future Fund,” said Northfield Shares Chair Lynn Oglesbee in a press release. “Our nonprofits provide the very heart and soul of our community in Northfield. Our goal is to provide additional money that would allow them to expand or create new programs that specifically address the needs of our residents.

“We’re proud that an additional $19,000 has been earmarked by the unrestricted grant funds of Northfield Shares and contributions from our Northfield Shares board who have all pledged their financial support,” Oglesbee added. “It’s important for our community members to know that all money raised for this effort will be entirely passed through directly to our nonprofits who are supporting our community members in a myriad of ways.”

The donations come at a perilous time for U.S. nonprofits. While the need for services has grown, raising money is difficult due to the poor economic conditions plaguing potential business and individual donors. Fundraising events have been canceled for health and safety reasons while revenue-generating programs have been closed or limited. There is also the continuing uncertainty of how long this “new normal” will last and the strain it will continue to have on the community.

The largest donations so far have been $50,000 each from longtime residents LaVern and Barbara Rippley, and the Ames Foundation. In addition, a $20,000 grant has been received from the Minnesota Council of Foundations Disaster Recovery Fund. That portion has been granted to six organizations in the first phase of the grant program.

“Barbara and I wish to leverage the granting infrastructure of Northfield Shares along with the collaborative spirit of our nonprofits to make a sustainable difference as our community moves into a time of a ‘new normal’,” said LaVern Ripley.

CORRECTION: The print version of this story misspelled the name of the couple who donated $50,000. The correct spelling is LaVern and Barbara Rippley.