After a rocky 2.5 years, it was announced today that Bedlam Lowertown will soon be closing its doors.
"With a fully stocked all-you-can-eat buffet of emotions, we announce that Bedlam Lowertown will be closing on November 2," say Maren Ward, artistic director, and Dan Spock, board president, via press release.
It will certainly be a loss for the ever-changing Lowertown St. Paul neighborhood, which has continued to evolve from a near ghost town to a culinary hub with hopping bars and restaurants. Since moving into the space in 2014, Bedlam has hosted a slew of local and traveling theater and dance, live music, movie screenings, dance nights, holiday parties, and festival happenings.
Bedlam Lowertown has been hustling to stay open since 2015. In August of that year, they launched an IndieGogo campaign in hopes of raising $75,000 (they hit around $23,000). They also hosted a series of happy hours with the goal of raising funds through generating more business. Bryant-Lake Bowl/Red Stag/Barbette restaurateur Kim Bartmann was brought in as a consultant to help beef up the concert linups and menu offerings. "They've got an awesome sound system," she told City Pages at the time.
The struggle began before the Lowertown space even launched. While the organization successfully managed to raise $1 million -- which included grants from the city of St. Paul and support from Mayor Chris Coleman -- to renovate the space, construction issues delayed its opening by about a year.
“There was a floor that turned out to be hollow that we thought was solid that we had to re-do,” communications director and Bedlam artist Alana Horton told City Pages in 2015. “The biggest setback was actually that there was an HVAC system, and we had to completely re-do the HVAC system of the building, which not only cost us in time but it cost us in money. So, we were already opening with debt hanging over our heads.”
The project overran the budget by $600,000, a hefty price tag for a small arts organization. Eventually, they turned to audiences for help raising funds.
“When we opened Lowertown, most of the funds for it came from grants and foundations, and not so much from our individual donor base,” said Horton in 2015. “So, we never actually really turned to our base in such a major way, in terms of supporting the venue.”
As the doors shutter in Lowertown, the future of the 23-year-old organization is unclear.
"We don't see this as a failure though we recognize the impact such a venture has had -- the ups and the downs and the unpaid bills," states the release. "The Bedlam Board will continue to trouble shoot the debt. The fate of Bedlam Theatre is unclear at this time. We will keep you posted."
Though it has probably been both a stressful and joyous era for Bedlam, the organization has managed to land on its feet over the years. When the group lost its West Bank space in 2010, the they continued to throw Bomp! dance parties at various venues around town.
In the tradition of throwing great parties, Bedlam plans a series of fun events leading up to the closing. The lineup includes a birthday bash, a Dia de los Muertos celebration, and a Halloween Hipshaker dance party, which will also serve as a fundraiser for the organization to help it move forward.