Contributed photo
Kevin Kosiak is hoping the Perham community auditorium will remain an important part of the community.

By West Central Initiative, Live Wide Open

All it takes is an idea.

That was the case last summer when some Perham friends felt that their beloved community auditorium was in dire need of a significant facelift. Indeed, while the venue hosts performances year-round, there were signs of neglect. Repairs and upgrades were needed on stage, backstage, and the seating area. Lights and sound needed to be fully brought into the digital age.

The City of Perham owns the building, so two friends, Kevin Kosiak and Dave Howey, made that first inquiry. But officials gave the inquisitive duo bad news: there wasn’t any money earmarked for an auditorium overhaul.

That’s when the idea took center stage, and the Friends of the Perham Auditorium was born.

That idea, with some help from West Central Initiative (WCI), means the Perham Auditorium’s future is bright.

“This building was built in 1937,” notes the Friends’ Kevin Kosiak. “So, you can imagine if these walls could speak, the stories they would tell. I just got goosebumps just thinking about it,” he said. 

As a former music director, Kosiak remembers hundreds of students performing in the space through 30 years of teaching. 

“I felt like it was the hub of artistic entertainment in the community,” he says.

It’s amazing how fast things progressed since last summer, from an idea to reality in a few months. But that’s one benefit offered to grassroots community groups who choose to work with WCI. Samantha VanWechel-Meyer, WCI Community Philanthropy Officer, says many community projects start the same way.  “Someone can have an idea for a community project, build support, create a leadership team, and become one of our fund partners. It can move fast.”

Kosiak really appreciates the partnership. “We initially tried to find a fiscal partner in town, [AQ1] [RS2] but we weren’t having much luck,” he said. When we found out about how WCI works with community groups, the pieces fell in place, he said.

Dave Howey is the Perham Auditorium Friends Board President. “Samantha explained WCI’s role and our responsibilities going forward,” Howey said. “When questions came up, she was clear, concise and timely with her responses.  I totally would recommend WCI to others in need of assistance because we have been able to proceed beyond our own personal experiences. There’s good synergy here!”

Howey said the auditorium is the only true performance venue in Perham that can seat 600 people.  “Updating and maintaining the site to host the arts is our goal and ambition,” he said. “We want to make it sustainable for future generations.”

To that end, early January was a busy time for the group as they planned a fund-raising event featuring performances by Perham alumni. One community volunteer who has taken on some critical tasks is Justin Carlstrom. He is putting in many hours setting up the lights and mapping out the performance light cues.

Contributed photo
Justin Carlstrom believes the Perham Auditorium is an integral part of the community. 

It’s something he’s never done before but he’s willing to learn, and he knows lights and sound are critical to the audience’s experience.  “I enjoy being on this side of the stage, not in front of the people,” he laughs. 

Carlstrom agrees with Kosiak and Howey on the importance of the Perham Auditorium. “This performance space for the community can be absolutely amazing,” he says. “The different things that it can be used for, to bring groups into the community, to promote the arts. I think that’s something that is really important.”