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Amid pandemic: Red Rock faces uncertainty

STILL PITCHING IN — Though furloughed, Red Rock Center director Sonja Fortune volunteers time to decorate the center for area 2020 graduates Wednesday afternoon in Fairmont. Graduates and their immediate families were invited to stop by and take some pictures outside the building, and share those photos on social media.

FAIRMONT — Red Rock Center for the Arts in Fairmont has undergone some drastic changes in response to COVID-19.

While restaurants and other businesses are beginning to discuss reopening in a limited capacity, the non-profit Red Rock remains closed, and likely will be for a long time to come.

Furloughed indefinitely, director Sonja Fortune is conducting some work on a voluntary basis. But she noted that Red Rock is struggling in two key areas: keeping people safe and losing a large portion of much-needed income.

“I think our biggest challenge is that our space is smaller,” she said. “So that’s where we really struggle with how many people we can safely put into the Red Rock.

“There’s a lot of talk about if we go with the flow and start to open up, but the whole thing for us is that a lot of the people we serve are in that older age group. That’s the group that is engaging in the music and a lot of the visual arts. So we need to keep that in the forefront of our minds, that we do need to keep everybody safe in our small space.

“We want to set a good example because when we are able to start up things like our concert series, we do want people to feel like they can safely come back here.”

The other challenge is financial. According to Fortune, the annual dinner fundraiser and silent auction never happened. Red Rock’s largest income-generating season is gone, with all deposits refunded. Several repairs also were made, with the facility looking forward to a promising rental season before the virus hit. Now Red Rock will finish off its fiscal year in June well into the red.

“Our annual fundraising is what we use to raise money for everything that we do,” she said. “Normally starting in the fall of the next year, our rentals help pay to keep our doors open, our maintenance repairs, and all of our income is now gone. We do have reserve funds, but it’s a question of how we use those.”

Fortune said the board of directors is doing the best it can and Red Rock does have a social media presence, but she is unsure whether any kind of online fundraisers could benefit the center.

“Doing things virtually is hard, because we’ve never done it before,” she noted. “It’s definitely a good time to learn, but we don’t want it to look sloppy or unprofessional. But we are looking at doing some virtual art shows, but who wants to come set up their art when people won’t be coming to see it?”

Fortune does not foresee indoor concerts or other events being part of any of the planned reopening phases until there’s a vaccine.

“I am fearful that we’re going to be out at least a year,” she said. “Our business is social gatherings, it’s large group celebrations, and we deal with a lot of the older generations. We do deal with a wide variety of age groups, but a lot of the people who really appreciate the arts and the culture and what we do here is the retired community.

“So it’s been a challenge. We’re trying to do what we can with what we have available.”

Fortune said Red Rock’s sister location, the Chubb House, also locked up tight and was unable to host its annual spring tea.

“The spring tea is a well-loved tradition for over 100 community members to gather in Fairmont’s oldest-surviving brick home overlooking Lake Sisseton,” she said. “Outside of tours, the ladies of the Chubb House only open their doors three times a year to raise money for the year’s operating expenses.

“The next time they are scheduled to open, if safe to do so, is in the fall for the Lamplight Stew Dinner. They are also faced with an additional expense of $4,600 in street assessments due to the Lake Avenue project.”

Red Rock Center for the Arts and the Chubb House are managed by the Martin County Preservation Association, a 501c3 non-profit organization. Fortune said donations are tax-deductible and greatly appreciated, especially during this time of crisis. People can become annual members and be publicly recognized for their support starting at $15 per person, or become a friend for $100.

For more information and to keep up with the Red Rock Center, people can search Red Rock Center on Facebook.

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