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Valparaiso Opera House foundation hopes to build on recent fundraising success

The Memorial OperHouse Valparaiso was opened 1893 dedicated veterans Civil War. | Post-Tribune File Photo

The Memorial Opera House in Valparaiso was opened 1893 and dedicated to the veterans of the Civil War. | Post-Tribune File Photo

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For more on the Memorial Opera House, 104 E. Indiana Ave., go to, or call (219) 548-9137.

Updated: January 9, 2014 6:38AM

VALPARAISO — While the Memorial Opera House needs ongoing, sometimes high-dollar maintenance — as might be expected of a building constructed in 1893 — the arts facility’s revived not-for-profit foundation may soon be able to shoulder some of that financial burden.

The foundation was at a standstill when Michelle Smith was named interim director in August 2012. Smith, who has since been hired to the position permanently by the Porter County Board of Commissioners, said the foundation had about $26,000 when she took over.

The foundation was officially restarted in July and, counting donations received before and since then, it now has about $54,000, said Jesse Harper, president of the Memorial Opera House Foundation.

The opera house will soon undergo about $15,000 in repairs for the large arched window at its entrance, and for the orchestra pit, Smith said. Though the projects pale in comparison to the past year’s roof and brick work, which were not to top $225,000, it’s still another expense for the county.

Smith has focused on cutting the facility’s budget, by putting on productions of work in the public domain (to limit the amount paid in licensing fees), and held fundraisers, including one last year for a new light board, which made more than $5,000 beyond the cost of that equipment.

Bookings at the opera house during the day, when performances aren’t going on, also are on the upswing, generating more revenue.

“We’ve done a lot with the limited resources that we have,” she said.

Smith’s goal, and one of the goals of the foundation, is to find other ways to further offset expenses.

“We really need some sponsorship,” she said. “Nobody realizes that it takes over $400,000 a year to run this place.”

Harper agreed, noting that arts facilities are not self-supporting.

“In any city, whether it’s New York, Chicago or Valparaiso, shows are dependent on corporate sponsors, so we are looking for companies in the community that want to sponsor a season or a show, and what that would entail,” he said.

For now, the foundation board is working on establishing committees and bylaws, and on a mission for the opera house that is in line with what board members want for the foundation, Harper said.

A gala held as the foundation was restarting didn’t raise as much money as organizers wanted, but Harper said there will be plans for similar events in the future.

“We want to raise more money, but I think every dollar we raise is a victory,” he said. “Hopefully one day, it will be self-sustaining.”

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