Public responds to Fairmont Opera House plea for help

FAIRMONT — One week ago, Blake Potthoff, executive director of the Fairmont Opera House, bemoaned the damage being done to the historic building as rain water and melting snow and ice flowed down its interior walls from the roof of the building.

As he blanketed auditorium seats with a tarp in preparation for that night’s show by We Banjo 3, he talked about the architect’s recommendation on the necessity of replacing the roof and other structural repairs.

But that costs money. A lot of money.

On Monday, before he left for Arts Advocacy Days, a two-day event in the Twin Cities, Potthoff created a post on the Opera House’s Facebook page, stating he hoped to raise $1,000 by the end of March.

“I thought, ‘We’ll see what happens.’ We got $1,000 in less than 12 hours. We had $3,000 in 24 hours, and by Wednesday evening, we had $15,000. An anonymous individual gave us $10,000. Since last Saturday, we’ve raised just over $17,000,” Potthoff said Friday.

He has amended his goal to $20,000 by the end of the month, an amount he plans to use as a springboard to continue fundraising.

“We are going to keep going,” he said. “There is no reason to stop because it is going to cost more than $20,000 to fix the place. We are unsure of how much money it’s going to take. It will probably be a short-term fix to get us to the next step to replace or repair the roof. It will help mitigate the problems right now.”

Potthoff expressed surprise at the amount and the speed of the donations.

“It was unanticipated that it would be that quick,” he said. “I figured we would get the $1,000, but I didn’t think we’d get it that fast. It was surprising, but at the same time, not, because I know a lot of people care about this building.”

Potthoff took over as executive director in December 2016. At that time, the Opera House season, which runs from June through May, featured 12 shows with an average of 187 people attending each performance.

“Right now, we’re averaging 312 people per event,” he said. “Part of that is due to an increase in programming for kids. When we invited the kids and the schools, it helped bring that number up.”

A grant from the Schmeeckle Foundation paid for all student admissions to “Sleeping Beauty” and “Charlotte’s Web” performances, and a Martin County Area Foundation grant financed transportation for the students.

“This year, everything was free for the students. That’s out of the ordinary,” Potthoff said. “Usually the schools pay their way. It’s $5 per student, and that’s still a really reasonable cost. The programming we’re doing is allowing more children to experience live performance art.”

Last year, the Opera House staged 26 events. When the 2019-2020 season starts in June, the schedule will feature 30 events.

Through it all, fundraising will continue.

“We are going to be out there, telling the story and trying to raise money,” Potthoff said. “That’s what we have to do if we want to keep this building for generations to come. For me, this is just a start.”

Donations can be made online at by clicking on the “capital campaign” tab at the top of the page or at the Fairmont Opera House Inc. Facebook page. Both are secure sights. Donations also can be dropped off during the Opera House’s business hours from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays, or by mailing to P.O. Box 226, Fairmont, MN 56031. More information is available by calling (507) 238-4900.