Opera House seeks new members

FAIRMONT – It all adds up.

The day-to-day costs of operating a historical building like Fairmont Opera House aren’t cheap, which is why its annual membership drive is so important. Last month, the heating bill alone was $1,600.

“Our faithful members pay for the heat, air conditioning, paper towels, light bulbs and so many other day-to-day expenses of the Opera House,” reads the 2014-2015 membership drive letter.

With a building that’s more than 100 years old – one of few in the area on the National Register of Historic Places – come additional expenses. This winter, three of the five furnaces underwent repair, damage from a small ice dam had to be fixed, and electricians have been busy throughout the building fixing faulty wiring, updating the exit and security lights and replacing lighting for two chandeliers.

And then the venue faced a different kind of hardship, when a thief broke in and stole thousands of dollars in cash and equipment following a Dec. 13 fundraiser. Many of the donors rewrote new checks, but the cash is gone, along with the safe that contained it.

Also inside the safe were checks and cash totaling $1,100 in box office receipts. None of the checks for that performance were rewritten.

Opera House managing director Kathi Peterson is trying not to be discouraged, but it’s tough.

The membership drive is supposed to raise enough money to help with the daily costs of operating the Opera House, but if recent years are any indication of how successful this drive will be, there’s not much hope.

“Membership is down,” Peterson said. “We would like to build that up. We wish more people would show pride in this historical building.”

It’s not just the money that’s needed. For the annual membership meeting last year, only two people showed up. That’s been par for the course the past few years.

To get by, Peterson is spending more and more time writing grants and fulfilling the stipulations and paperwork that come with grant money.

Fundraisers can help, but the money generated through these events often goes toward specific projects. Ticket and bar sales generate money too, but these funds typically are used to offset entertainment expenses, not for day-to-day costs.

Anyone who would like to support the Opera House financially can become a member through a tax-deductible contribution. Memberships are valid for one year, from April 1-March 31.

There are several levels, starting at student memberships, which cost just $5, or contributing memberships for $35-$74 – all the way up to guardian angels, for $5,000-plus.

Members’ names appear in the Opera House program booklet, and they are eligible to vote at the annual meeting.

For more information on memberships, or to help out in other ways – volunteers are always needed – contact Peterson at (507) 238-4900 or email director@fairmontoperahouse.com