A local worker sands the floor of the Potter Auditorium in the Chatfield Center for the Arts. A grant from the Carl and Verna Schmidt Foundation was recently received to cover all but $94 of the project.
A local worker sands the floor of the Potter Auditorium in the Chatfield Center for the Arts. A grant from the Carl and Verna Schmidt Foundation was recently received to cover all but $94 of the project.
Potter Auditorium's stage has undergone a makeover in recent weeks. The hardwood floor has been sanded, cleaned and refinished thanks to generous grants and support from the local community.

"A $9,000 grant was received from the Carl and Verna Schmidt Foundation designated for a stage floor refinishing project," said Chatfield's city clerk, Joel Young, speaking of continued renovation happening at Potter Auditorium and the Chatfield Center for the Arts (CCA).

"Since the stage is dedicated for concerts, theatrical presentations, and such, none of the athletic lines are needed," Young continued. "In fact, they were a nuisance to those performances. The finish was old and chipped. It was also too glossy of a finish for the current uses."

According to Young, the floor will look very different from what it has looked like in the past. The new floor will not be as glossy and it will be darker. He said this darker floor, with a softer finish, is desired for the kinds of activities now taking place there, like the theatrical performances, concerts and presentations.

The CCA's guardians received a quote of $9,094 for the project, of which only $94 came from the center's budget, thanks to the Schmidt grant, which expedited the refinishing project.

"Without this grant, it is difficult to estimate how long it would have taken to get this project completed. This was critical," Young said.

In fact, grants have funded numerous improvements throughout the former Chatfield Elementary School.

"Grants have been the critical component behind the physical improvements that have been made since the EDA has taken possession of the buildings," he explained. "Starting with Potter Auditorium, grants have made it possible to re-paint the entire auditorium, to replace the fixed spotlights above the stage and on the balcony railing with much more energy efficient and effective LED lights, to replace the follow spotlights in the balcony, to renovate the board room on the second floor of the building, to improve electrical service in the auditorium, to fabricate and install handrails on the front steps and to refinish the stage floor."

Young also explained that, in the 1916 building, grants have made it possible to refinish floors, to install a sub-floor in the upper level, to install new lighting and ceiling fans, to create a caterer's kitchen, to acquire tables, chairs, kitchen appliances, to paint walls and ceilings, and to install new sidewalks and steps to match what had been in place decades ago.

"Simply put, grant money has made the place usable and functional - without these grants, the buildings would be difficult to use," he said. "The most exciting part of receiving grants is that the local people are better able to use these buildings. When one realizes the many meetings, private parties and receptions, concerts, fundraisers, and gatherings of all kinds that are now taking place in those buildings, it is clear that the community is starting to consider these buildings as part of the services that are provided for community uses, which would not be possible without the grants."

Benefactors of the CCA have been more than generous. "While grants have come from several sources, two notable grantors are the Carl and Verna Schmidt Foundation and the Arlen C. Falck Foundation. Each of those grantors has bestowed on this project three separate grants. The support of these two foundations has been an incredible statement of support for the Chatfield community."

Currently, the CCA has also received a $6,000 grant from the Arlen C. Falck Foundation specifically for the construction of a handicapped ramp that will be placed at a door in the middle of the rear of the building, next to off-street parking...to allow the best possible access to the entire first floor of both buildings, Young pointed out.

Additionally, the Fillmore County Sentence to Serve program has provided labor courtesy of program participants who are "repairing damaged walls and painting areas that badly need it," and the CCA's board has submitted a $275,000 grant application to ArtPlace, and Young said if this application is successful, they will be able to transform the 1916 gymnasium into usable and functional space.

"The center has been quite busy and is making a real impact in the lives of people and businesses," he said. "Recently, one local individual said that he looks at the center as a place to spawn innovation - he wondered, for instance, if it were not for the presence of Potter Auditorium, would Joe Chase have been inspired to write 'The Last Boy in Blue,' or 'The Battle Cry of Freedom'? There is no doubt that those two presentations, as well as many others, have made a difference in the lives of people within the area. While such an impact is a testament to Judge Chase, the presence of this venue is very important."

The CCA has contributed to its own sustainability and to Chatfield's economic health.

"In terms of economic impact, over $52,000 of ticket sales took place at the Center in 2012, approximately $72,000 were spent on operating costs, and another $30,000 were spent on capital improvements," Young explained. "Since this is a non-profit effort, all of those dollars roll over in the local economy and that benefits all of us. We are aware of over 60 different companies doing business with or at the Center in 2012."

Young observed that the community has the ability to promote and support the CCA, be it through attending or sponsoring a play on the not-so-glossy Potter stage or a coffeehouse concert down the hall.

"Aside from simply donating, people can attend functions or develop new activities. All of the activities, whether it is yoga, Zumba, concerts, drama, or other activities, bring people to the venue and that, in turn, brings resources to the venue in some form," he said. "Donations of money, time, expertise, ideas and so forth, along with active participation, will continue to improve the venue."

He elaborated, "People should understand that the center is available for many activities as long as people have the ability to develop an idea into a working model. For the most part, the Chatfield Center for the Arts, Inc., is an organization that is facilitating the preservation and improvement of these buildings and is willing to work with people who are willing to produce activities that benefit the area. Things like dances, movies, concerts other than folk music, and other activities can all develop fairly quickly, and those people who are interested in such things are encouraged to come forward with their ideas and desire to develop such productions. I wouldn't be surprised to see movies shown on a routine basis sometime in the near future. For that to happen, though, a few individuals who are passionate about that sort of thing will need to nurture this idea into a reality."

Young concluded, "The core group of volunteers who are diligently working to improve the center, and to maintain it, is small and dedicated. They welcome anyone who would like to volunteer to help, whether it be for projects, routine custodial duties, to fundraise, or for many other activities."

For anyone interested in volunteering, contact the city clerk's office for more information by e-mailing Joel Young at jyoung@ci.chatfield.mn.us, stopping in at Chatfield City Hall at 21 Second St. SE, or calling (507) 867-3810.