Audrey Sands hasn’t set foot inside the Paradise Center for the Arts since March — and it’s not for lack of desire.

Ever since the facility closed March 16 in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Sands has stayed at home, working on her own artistic projects to pass the time.

“I hope they make it,” said Sands of the Paradise Center. “I volunteer there a lot, and I understand they’re running on a shoestring, so this cannot be good.”

Even though the Paradise Center closed its doors temporarily, volunteers and employees across the community continue to access the therapeutic nature of the arts from their homes. Still, these artists and art supporters look forward to the day they can gather together in the common space on Central Avenue.

During Minnesota’s stay at home order, Sands has worked on her quilting and pottery projects. Completing one quilt takes her years because she sews everything by hand, but she’s already completed 12 pottery projects during quarantine. She often gifts her completed items or sells them at the Paradise gift store, and she hopes to continue her contributions when the PCA reopens.

“You can’t have a culture without art,” said Sands. “It brings people together. It allows a lot of artistic people to express themselves. For me, it’s just a very pleasurable way to pass time, now that I’m retired. Arts are really important.”

Julie Fakler, operations manager of the Paradise Center, agreed that the arts have a therapeutic quality to them. She herself has spent more time painting pet portraits and quilting during social distancing, and she offers an artists’ discussion group on Facebook for those searching for a safe space to have their projects critiqued. She’ll soon switch the Healing Arts paintings and drawings, which local artists created for District One Hospital. Even though the public can’t view the pieces, hospital employees can admire the new artwork in the halls.

“I just hope [the Paradise Center] can open soon,” said Fakler. “I don’t know when that will be, and I don’t know what that will look like. I’ve been talking with the leaders of other arts organizations, and I think we’re all in the same boat. I guess we’ll look to Europe, because they’ll be opening up before us. We do have a bunch of summer classes scheduled, so I do hope those will happen.”

A raku firing class, the first PCA class since March, will take place May 17 at instructor Diane Lockerby’s home. Only a couple people signed up for the class, said Fakler, so this allows for the recommended social distancing. Auditions for “Beauty and the Beast, Jr.” are scheduled for July 16, and auditions for the fall theater camp will be held in August. But until then, Fakler continues to research online platforms and encourages art lovers to seek out virtual museum tours and artistic resources offered online for free during the pandemic.

Since PCA hasn’t presented any concerts or shows since early March, Executive Director Heidi Nelson said the organization has zero income from new memberships even though previous memberships have been renewed.

“Literally no one bought tickets for anything,” said Nelson. “But I’m not surprised because no one knows what’s going to happen [with COVID-19].”

Since payroll protection won’t cover all of the Paradise Center’s expenses, Nelson wrote to a dozen of the major corporations in Faribault to ask for sponsorship dollars. Her concern is that the Paradise Center will break even rather than making a profit from ticket sales. This is because, to allow for social distancing, the theater won’t allow for a full house during performances. Nelson pointed out another catch-22: the Paradise Center won’t likely continue to make money as it did in the past without raising ticket prices, but the new prices may be higher than Faribaultans are willing to pay.

During these difficult financial times, Nelson and other Paradise Center employees cope with stress by producing and advocating for more art. During the entire month of May, for instance, Nelson is promoting “Paradise Sings at Six,” an opportunity for previous performers to share their vocal talents and what they like or miss about the Paradise Center on its Facebook page. The online event doubles as a fundraiser to support the Paradise Center.

“I really love this theater because I actually got the honor of starring in ‘Annie’ at this theater in sixth grade, and it was my favorite memory of all of middle school,” said Beatrice Watts in her “Paradise Sings at Six” video on Facebook.

Paradise Center for the Arts Artistic Director Shelley Fitzgerald spoke in her Facebook contribution about what the Paradise Community Theater has meant to her and her family over the past several years.

“My son met his future wife on that stage,” said Fitzgerald. “In fact, that is the best part about community theater as far as I am concerned … the wonderful relationships and the lifelong friends you make. And it’s also the toughest part about this situation is the fact that we can’t be face to face with these dear people. We miss you so much.”

Reporter Misty Schwab can be reached at 507-333-3135. Follow her on Twitter @APGmisty. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved. 

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