The footlights go dark on Hennepin Ave.

The Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts announced yesterday that it will be closing for good, ending performances on March 31. In doing so, Cowles cancelled performances scheduled for April and May at its Goodale Theater, located on Hennepin Avenue.

The very existence of the Goodale Theater is attributable to an engineering marvel.

You will recall that, as part of the rebuilding of the once-derelict Block E in downtown Minneapolis, the old Shubert Theatre building was picked up and moved several blocks up Hennepin Avenue. The structure’s $15 million move made the Guinness Book of World Records. The City of Minneapolis provided $5 million of that amount.

The relocated Shubert building sat dark until 2011, when it reopened as the Goodale, more than 12 years and another $27 million later. Many of those dollars came from you, the taxpayer.

Back in 2009, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported that the project had received $12 million from the state legislature over the years. The City of Minneapolis and the Federal government contributed $millions more.

The state’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund has been generous over the operating history of the new venture, providing taxpayer-funded grants to both the theater itself and the artists who perform there. For example, the state Arts Board provided $192,000 in grants directly to the Cowles Center in its first four years of operation.

The building itself will still be around, but its largest tenant will be no more. Cowles’ most recently available tax return (2022) showed total revenue of $3.8 million against expenses of $3.3 million. Its balance sheet showed net assets of $25 million. However, those assets consist entirely of the three buildings it owns along Hennepin Avenue, with few liquid assets available.

The return shows that its top 5 officers all earned salaries exceeding $150,000. Between Cowles and the related Artspace corporate entity, the organization has more than 7 employees making more than $200,000.

But the end, when it came, came quickly. Cowles cites a post-pandemic drop in both ticket sales and donor support. They add the following in their press release:

Furthermore, The Cowles Center’s largest donor and administrative partner, Artspace is unable to provide the sustaining the support it has given The Cowles Center in the past. Tremendous private fundraising efforts have taken place which have allowed the preservation of the season through March. Furthermore, while there have been discussions with potential partners to step into the operations of the Goodale and Cowles programming, no solid agreements have yet come to fruition. The Cowles Center and Artspace remain dedicated to the communities they serve.

It’s worth noting that the state Arts Board has sunk an additional $6 million in taxpayer funding into Artspace over the past ten years.

The sunk cost that sunk.