The Fairmont Opera House Works Preserve the Legacy, Enrich the Future of the Region

The Fairmont Opera House Works Preserve the Legacy, Enrich the Future of the Region Main Photo

8 Jul 2024


One of the first things you notice when driving through Downtown Fairmont is the historic opera house, which has been a staple of the community since 1901. Despite its name, The Fairmont Opera House was never meant to focus on opera. The founders intended the building to be a variety theater that features multiple types of entertainment. They just thought the term “opera house” would be fancier.

“I joke that I’m the closest thing you get to opera in the building,” says Blake Potthoff, Executive Director of The Fairmont Opera House. Potthoff, a Martin County native, was classically trained in opera and has been managing the building since 2016. “I saw my first show in this building in 2001 and learn something new about managing a historic theater every day.”

The Fairmont Opera House is a significant economic driver in the region and contributes to the quality of life for residents of Martin County and surrounding areas. Learn more about this institution and current efforts to preserve it. 

The Fairmont Opera House Has an $896,000 Economic Impact

Arts and culture thrive in Southern Minnesota, and The Fairmont Opera House is a perfect example of this. According to data from Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, The Fairmont Opera House had more than 17,000 attendees in 2019 and invited more than 3,000 students to watch performances, driving an estimated $896,000 economic impact.  

The report found that Martin County has a high density of artists and creatives in its workforce, with 14 creative listings per 1,000 jobs.

“Fairmont is a hub for the arts,” says Ned Koppen, Coordinator at the Fairmont Economic Development Authority (EDA). “Whether you appreciate the arts or participate as a performer or creator, you can find a community here.”  

Not only does The Fairmont Opera House support the culture of the region, but it also has secondary economic benefits. Each ticket sold contributes $19.71 to the local economy. This translates to money spent at restaurants and bars before or after shows, hotel stays, and other purchases with local retailers.

“We consistently draw people from more than 100 miles in every direction,” says Potthoff. “Our donors come from up to 65 miles away. We have also had visitors from Chicago and Washington D.C. who drove to Fairmont to attend specific performances that they couldn’t see where they live.”  
Potthoff also sits on the Visit Fairmont Board of Directors and talks directly with visitors who travel for shows. He recommends additional things to do and listens to the needs of tourists who visit The Fairmont Opera House

All Audiences Are Welcome at The Fairmont Opera House

A century ago, The Fairmont Opera House opened with the goal of providing entertainment to residents of Southern Minnesota. Today, it continues to draw people from all walks of life. 

“Our goal is to make this the most inclusive and accessible performing arts center we can while making our bottom line work,” says Potthoff. “The Fairmont Opera House is for everybody. It starts with me at the top and the board of directors to make it accessible.”

Potthoff highlights how The Fairmont Opera House relies on the local community for support, which means the organization needs to reflect its audience. His goal is to create opportunities for Minnesota residents to experience new cultures and art forms without having to leave Fairmont. 

Residents Can Support The Fairmont Opera House by Funding Renovations

In October 2023, The Fairmont Opera House partially closed with the goal of continuing to produce shows while making much-needed repairs. The construction team realized the scope of work was more extensive than expected, causing the theater to close its doors completely in November. The Fairmont Opera House needs roof repairs, masonry repairs, restored bathrooms, and a host of other repairs and restorations before it is safe to use again.

However, these repairs aren’t enough to stop the organization from working to achieve its mission: advancing cultural experience and community involvement throughout the region.  Potthoff and his team have a limited selection of shows scheduled in the community, bringing cultural experiences to Fairmont in several unique venues. Residents can catch performances in local churches, gyms, the high school, and potentially even the Martin County Courthouse.

All of these shows are fundraisers for the repair projects, which are expected to cost between $3.8 and $4 million. Potthoff and his team are working to raise funds for the project, with a public capital campaign to be announced at the end of July. They are also applying for grants, hosting fundraising tours, and looking for other legacy opportunities to cover the cost of the project.

However, Potthoff insists the community must rally together to save this iconic Martin County venue. “Saving The Fairmont Opera House is a community project, and it will take all of us who are passionate about the facility to ensure it is open for future generations.” He noted that community financial support will be critical to completing the repair and rehabilitation project.

“The Fairmont Opera House staff are working tirelessly to keep theatre alive in the region,” says Koppen. “They are keeping audiences entertained and performers on stage, even if they are setting up in school gyms. We can’t wait to see how their repairs turn out – and what the opera house does afterward.” 

The Fairmont Opera House is a Single Puzzle Piece in Martin County

This theater is an outstanding historic building that is worth visiting in Fairmont, but its performances bring the space to life and connect people from all backgrounds. It is just one of many arts organizations and groups that make people fall in love with the region.

“There are so many non-profits in Martin County that are doing great work for our community of 20,000 people,” says Potthoff. “The Fairmont Opera House is just one piece of the puzzle. This is really a great place to live because of everything going on. I wouldn’t want to raise my daughter anywhere else.”

Give Fairmont a try, whether you are visiting the opera house or relocating here. Life in Fairmont has something for everyone, from expansive opportunities to connect with nature to a thriving arts community. Fairmont, and Minnesota as a whole, is a great place to work, volunteer, and raise a family.