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Sen. Amy Klobuchar, in a visit to Willmar, shines a spotlight on the arts with the Save Our Stages Act

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar on Monday visited the Barn Theatre in Willmar to showcase the Save Our Stages Act, which provided funding for arts and entertainment venues across the state. The Barn Theatre, New London Little Theatre and the Spicer Cinema all received funding.

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U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar visited the Barn Theatre in Willmar on Monday to celebrate the success of the Save Our Stages Act, which provided arts and entertainment venues with money to help them weather the pandemic. Shelby Lindrud / West Central Tribune

WILLMAR — On a stage that has played host to dozens of well-loved plays, musical performances and even a naturalization ceremony, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., celebrated the success of the Save Our Stages Act Monday afternoon at the Barn Theatre in Willmar. The act, which was introduced and championed by Klobuchar and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, was approved in December 2020 and will be providing $16 billion in grant funding to arts and entertainment venues across the nation that were hit hard by pandemic closures and loss of revenue.

"We were convinced no one would want to let the music die," Klobuchar said. "I think the pandemic actually made people think more about how much they missed gathering together and how much they value culture and arts."

In Minnesota, 200 venues will be receiving money. In addition to the Barn Theatre , which received $88,824, two other local art venues have also been granted funding. The Spicer Cinema was awarded $157,760 and the New London Little Theatre was given $11,000.

"This is exactly what we were trying to do, is help theaters like this," Klobuchar said.

When the pandemic hit in March 2020, entertainment venues had to cancel shows and shut down. Stages were dark for months and facilities had to find new and inventive ways to keep afloat. Both the Barn and the Little Theatre reimagined how to produce and provide theater performances while the Spicer Cinema did drive up popcorn sales when the movie theater was closed. Without the funding from the Save Our Stages Act and other grant funds, it would have been challenging — if not impossible — for these institutions to come out of the pandemic with open doors.

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"Financially we really need it, so we really thank you for that," said Naomi Lindquist, operations manager for the Barn Theatre. "We can only go up from here, thanks to that money."

These institutions are just now starting to reopen back to pre-COVID levels and business is not yet back to normal.

"It really kept us afloat," said Dr. Marty Janning, who owns the Spicer Cinema, of the dollars the movie theater received. "I don't know what we would have done."

Even the smallest organizations mostly run by volunteers, such as the New London Little Theatre, had expenses to meet when no or little revenue was coming in. The Save Our Stages funding helped keep the doors open.

"We had no illusions, we were so small we didn't know what we were eligible for," said Bethany Lacktorin, director and president of the Little Theatre. "But, $11,000 goes a long way to keeping our little doors open, so we super appreciate that."

Klobuchar was pleased to hear how the act's funding was assisting the local art scene in the area.

"We are really excited you are staying afloat," Klobuchar said. "We really don't want to lose these theaters."

In a non-pandemic year, Minnesota's arts and entertainment scene brings in $2 billion to the state's economy, Klobuchar said, and it is also one of many reasons why people choose to live where they do.

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"It is a much bigger issue than one theater," Klobuchar said. "I think it is about letting people live everywhere."

Willmar Mayor Marv Calvin thanked Klobuchar for visiting the city and helping the local arts organizations in the region.

"If this bill hadn't happened, a lot of these venues would have closed down and that would have been devastating," Calvin said.

Places like the Barn Theatre are important pieces to not just the local economy but the overall feel of the community.

"It is about the culture. It is about what makes the fabric of the community," Calvin said.

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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