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Commentary: Let's make the Sheldon center stage again

It’s been some 25 years since the community reached deeply into its piggy bank to do a full facelift/restoration of the historic T.B. Sheldon Theatre. At that time the community voted 85 percent for a bond issue to pair with major fundraising from private groups and individuals.

It’s turned out to be one of the greatest civic investments of all time and one of the greatest success stories in a city replete with success stories.

Nothing lasts forever, and the Sheldon once again needs help. The paint is peeling. The roof needs replacement. The exterior is in serious need of tuckpointing. The lighting and sound systems are antiquated. (Imagine watching the television set that you had 25 years ago.) And the bathrooms are not compliant with public access requirements — to mention a few of the items on the list.

The Red Wing City Council is in the process of considering the needs along with the Sheldon’s Board of Directors. The city has many other capital items to consider, but we hope the theater gets a high priority because, frankly, some of the required work has been put off from year to year.

An important fact that citizens may not know is that city taxpayer dollars do not go to subsidize operations or performances at the Sheldon. The theater depends day-to-day on ticket sales, user fees and, most importantly, a large chunk of funding from individuals, private businesses and various philanthropic organizations.

The Friends of the Sheldon, formed at the time of restoration, will provide a minimum of $50,000 this season that will represent the contributions of some 400 individual donors and many Red Wing businesses. The Red Wing Area Fund makes an annual bequest of $75,000 and has in all contributed $2.6 million in 25 years.

The city’s responsibility is to take care of the building, which it owns, and in that regard the Sheldon has the same position, say, as a park or athletic field. We are hopeful that the city will fix all the Sheldon needs in a single year so as to minimize the disruption of theater operations.

The Sheldon is busy. Presented there are an average of 100 shows a year involving more than 1,200 local and visiting artists before audiences that regularly surpass 20,000 annually. It’s for young and old with heavy emphasis on participants from local schools. Total youth participation on and off stage is expected at 5,300 this season.

Through staff restructuring in cooperation with the city, the Sheldon now is adding a development director whose job it will be to increase and diversify contributed funds and also expand the endowment which the theatre has created.

The Sheldon’s job is to provide the best in arts and entertainment for the enjoyment and enlightenment of the community and its visitors. It’s a private/government partnership that really works.

Dowse has fit Sheldon well

As executive director, Sean Dowse has been heart and soul of the Sheldon nearly 25 years. One of his greatest strengths has been building collaborations and partnerships. On the local level this means that Phoenix Theatre, Sheldon Brass Band, Red Wing Schools and others have found a warm home on stage.

His work in encouraging state-based artists such as the James Sewell Ballet to find a home at the Sheldon also is commendable.

The best thing is that local artists are treated with the same respect as those nationally known.

Each spring, students and community look forward to the high school musical directed by Sean. He also directs many Phoenix productions. We’re all hoping that he maintains those traditions as he considers retirement. To eventually fill his shoes will require the magic of Cinderella’s slipper.