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Coping with COVID: Red Rock Center

FAIRMONT — Executive Director of the Red Rock Center for the Arts Sonja Fortune described the process of the COVID-19 pandemic as exhausting and heartbreaking, but she still focused on the Red Rock Center’s goal of keeping a strong presence of the arts in the community.

The Red Rock Center for the Arts first opened its doors in 2005. Prior to its opening, the Red Rock Center was the First Church of Christ Scientist and the building needed to be restored. Restoration work included the installation of an elevator making the building handicapped accessible, the roof and exterior block work were repaired, the stairways were relocated, the wood floor and trim were refinished and the stained-glass windows were professionally re-leaded and re-installed.

The Red Rock Center for the Arts mission is to encourage and provide quality visual and performing arts opportunities for people of all ages. The Red Rock Center for the Arts also serves as a public rental space for events such as reunions, wedding and anniversary gatherings prom dinners, birthday parties, graduation open houses, meetings, or other private events.

Fortune started at the Red Rock Center in May 2010. When the first shutdown in March 2020 came, the Center was about to kick off a new year that never happened. Events that were canceled included a high school art show, Memorial Day Community picnic, almost the entire concert series, 11 graduations, three weddings, and Christmas parties that never made it to the calendar. Some people thought it was going to be short-lived, but Fortune knew it wasn’t going to be something that went away real quick.

Immediately Fortune went to the board of the Red Rock Center and told the board that her goals were first and foremost that they found ways to stay connected and keep a strong presence in the community through art. The Red Rock Center used Facebook for virtual events and reached out to area schools’ bands and orchestras, who recorded musical performances to Facebook.

“It was just a way to say we’re here and we’re not going anywhere,” Fortune said. “We had to adapt and change due to the pandemic.”

Other things the Red Rock Center did included drive-thru meals, multiple drive-by distributions of make and take art kits, virtual storytime, special gallery walks, and four concerts in the park last summer, and a large-scale concert as a fundraiser at the bandshell in Sylvania Park.

The Red Rock Center for the Arts received county grants, federal grants, art grants, and a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board that it usually doesn’t qualify for. The grant was obtained, which helped keep the Red Rock Center keep going and be able to do things for free. There was also a matching donation where someone matched a fundraiser amount of $10,000. Fortune said that the generosity of the community was wonderful.

Fortune said she misses the people of the older generation with their conversations and said that the Red Rock Center sees a lot of acts of kindness and appreciation from that generation. Fortune said that it was very heartbreaking and exhausting trying to come up with new ways to stay connected.

“For me personally even though I don’t own the Red Rock Center I felt like in a sense I was losing everything I had built over the 11 years,” Fortune said. “I cried so many times just wondering and I still do wonder what happens next, the uncertainty of who will come back and building new audiences.”

Fortune hopes that things will continue to improve and return to normal. Fortune said she learned that everything can change overnight.

“You really need to be grateful for what you have,” Fortune said. “Just remembering that tomorrow is never promised.”

Fortune is glad to be back and see that the Red Rock Center is reopened, but said that it’s been very stressful trying to figure out how to plan and how to move forward after this.

“I do my job pretty well, but it’s almost like I’m learning all new things all over again,” Fortune said.

Fortune wanted to send an overall message to the community that she and the Red Rock Center have done everything in their power to ensure that the arts continue to have a strong presence in the community.

“As we start to reopen and do things we have the best interest of everyone involved and feel that we will be able to provide a healthy and safe atmosphere, and hopefully a better environment, than we ever had in the past,” Fortune said.

The Red Rock Center for the Arts is starting to do in-person art classes for youth that also includes a week-long summer camp beginning June 14. Future plans for the Red Rock Center for the arts include kicking off four-to-six weeks’ worth of Fridays in Citizens Park over the noon hours beginning June 18. Several concerts will be held at the bandshell in Sylvania Park on June 11 starting with Chain Station, a four-piece, high-energy, string band from the Front Range of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. At the end of July, the Red Rock Center for the Arts is planning for its annual dinner theatre fundraiser. In Early Fall, the Red Rock Center for the Arts will be doing a major floor renovation indoors with the hope of in-person programming in November.

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