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Preserving history with vibrant arts center: St. Stans Church reborn with creative intent

It's official: Perham now has a center for the arts.

After two years of planning and brainstorming, St. Stanislaus Church will be preserved as Perham's hot spot for family entertainment, otherwise known as the Perham Center for the Arts.

Parishioners voted on Thursday in favor of the project. Having now been certified as an official non-profit, volunteers are eager to move forward in the creation of the arts venue.

The mission for the venue is to be a hub for musical and theatrical enjoyment. With tremendous acoustics, organizers are hoping to provide a space for musical artists to perform. There's really no cap on what the center will host, other than it must be family-friendly.

The center will welcome and encourage musicals, plays, community orchestra performances, jazz bands and any other performances by local or traveling musicians, said Dick Stoderl, who has been involved in the preservation project.

The main area of the church will be known as the Stanislaus Theatre. An area in the basement will be available to host post event gatherings, featuring wine and cheese.

"We want to give the people what they want to see," said Fran Johnson, a member of the parish council and active volunteer in the preservation project.

Inspiration for the center was born from a desire of St. Stanlislaus parishioners to preserve the historic building, which closed as a church two years ago. With examples of church buildings being turned into music venues around the state, organizers began to look into the idea.

"To me, it's just an absolutely beautiful building, and I feel there was a re-use idea for it somewhere," Johnson said.

They found it in the arts.

Some work will have to be done to the inside of the building before it opens for its first show, which organizers expect to be in about a year. Because the church is now sanctioned as an arts center, it no longer is grandfathered in as St. Stanislaus was. That means it will have to alter its arrangements to make it handicap accessible.

But that's not a problem for those working on the project, who said they and other volunteers are eager to do whatever it takes to once again open the building to the public.

"Our goal is to keep the church where it's at - but functional," Soderl said.

A raised stage area will be erected where the alter sits, providing added room for performers. For the time being, the church pews will remain intact, as well as the balcony.

Organizers are looking to grants to help the center out, along with donations from the community. With an expanded Legacy arts fund available through the state, volunteers are encouraged by potential opportunities. They're also pairing up with a regional arts council and West Central Initiative out of Fergus Falls in the process.

Soderl said the support from area arts centers has been tremendous. Organizers are also encouraged by the impact on local economies that similar arts centers are having around the state. Considering most shows are accompanied by dinner or desert, it could be a bonus for area establishments.

"I'm hoping this will be a boost for Perham," Johnson said.

The support from the community has been overwhelming, Johnson said, with plenty of business owners and city officials encouraging the project.

To introduce the idea to the community and celebrate the accomplishment of being certified as a non-profit, the Perham Center for the Arts will host a community picnic at the end of the summer. Dates will be announced soon.

The center will be run by a board of directors and will not employ anyone at the start of the project.

Volunteers in all areas of construction and art are welcomed to volunteer in the renovation process. For more information about volunteering or to inquire about setting up a future show, contact Johnson at 218-346-4466 or Soderl at 218-639-2351.