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Pandemic One Year Later: Pablo Center at the Confluence

Eau Claire’s $60M crown jewel for the arts hopes to re-open in Summer 2021
Published: Mar. 11, 2021 at 9:35 PM CST
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - Eau Claire’s $60 million crown jewel for the arts, the Pablo Center has stood silent as the COVID-19 pandemic has halted mass gatherings and in-person performances for the last year.

It feels like a lifetime ago. Live music, local artists sharing their musical talents.

“It was just quiet, it was sad. I think a lot of people were missing live music, just that in-person, that energy that gets exchanged in a live show and there is actually, people physically there, it’s nothing like it in this world, I love it,” says local artist Jerrika Mighelle.

For local artists Mighelle and Evan Middlesworth, being unable to perform in front of live audiences has been frustrating. They hope people’s passion for entertainment will be re-kindled, a musical renaissance post-pandemic.

“I think re-birth is okay to say because I think Eau Claire was getting comfortable with the music scene, and I think when you are too comfortable then I think it kept people from coming to shows. So I was feeling like attendance was low and other musicians might agree with me that it’s hard to get people to come so now I think that now that it’s been taken away from people and you didn’t even have the option anymore, I think when it’s time for it to open again, yes, the floodgates are going to open and people are going to come,” says Mighelle.

“Coming out of this, this year has been a filter of sorts and hopefully if it’s a re-birth of sorts, it will allow musicians to realize their value. And how valuable their time is and their talent and their health. If this time gives them a stronger voice to say we’re a good band, or I’m a good musician or I’m a good sculptor, or I’m a great painter, I’m going to attach value to what I do, I think now is really the time to focus on that and build that skill set up,” adds Middlesworth.

Friday will mark one year since the Pablo Center had to shutter due to the pandemic. According to Executive Director Jason Jon Anderson, a year dark but not a dark year.

“Hearing from artists, hearing from community members directly about the importance of this building over the past year has helped invigorate the staff, keep the bus going when we’ve been honestly at our wits end, of how we are going to make payroll, how are you going to play your responsibilities that you’ve promised this project means more to this community, it can’t fail because of all the other projects that look to it as the beacon of hope to create success,” says Anderson.

With no revenue stream for the past year, Anderson says the Pablo Center has been able to survive through grants on the federal and state levels totaling more than $667,000. Enough to pay their full-time staff but 168 part-time workers were laid off. With vaccines becoming more readily available, Anderson is hopeful of reopening this summer.

“60 days after the vaccine is readily available to anyone in the United States who wants it, these venues will be open, and open at full capacity. And that could be early or mid-July or August 1st. Right now, our fourth season calendar starts on October 1st. I think we’re in really great alignment to launch our season but to populate it with local and regional artists as soon as we are ready to open,” says Anderson.

Anderson admits pulling the plug on the Pablo was disappointing because they were just getting their “sea legs” underneath them.

“Having an entire year where we’re not just focusing on producing events internally, but looking out into the community, those relationships have helped build trust as we really view season four as a brand new grand opening. Let’s re-open the building, our soft opening was three years ago, let’s re-open, re-present ourselves and do so in a way that’s reflective of our region so I’m excited, I believe that’s going to happen,” adds Anderson.

With hundreds of events booked starting in October, Anderson says the Pablo Center is excited to once again fill that void in cultural entertainment to the Chippewa Valley.

“We’ve always had mass gatherings spaces, places to get together and have shared human experiences. Pablo Center is a great highlight of the most recent version of that. People want to share together in those experiences, they’ve been unable to do so for over a year,” says Anderson.

A chance for Pablo Center to once again raise its voice along the confluence.

“It’s like the Phoenix... Phoenix Park... rise from the ashes.. I think that’s kind of what’s going to happen here,” says Mighelle.

The Pablo Center is also the future home of the Wisconsin Shakespeare Festival, which has been under construction.

Completely funded by donors, the Shakespearian set will be hosted by the Pablo Center and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

It will start with traditional Shakespeare scripts but the concept is to be on an international level where undergraduate and graduate level performers from around the country will give theatre a real home at Pablo.

Click HERE to become a founding donor of the project.

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