General 3-23-2004

Youth Performance Company Moves to Salem

In a trend that seems to be growing nationwide, Youth Performance Company (YPC) has made an alliance to rent out space from a church.

YPC has moved its administrative, classroom and rehearsal activities to what was the education wing of Salem English Lutheran Church, on 28th St. and Lyndale Ave. South in Minneapolis. Their University Avenue space was sold, and they spent 2002 on the
look-out for something new and improved . The footwork and the contract
negotiations were done by Board President Rich Knowlton.

“The vitality and aesthetic change to YPC has been extraordinary,” says
Artistic Director Jacie Knight. “ It’s as if YPC got a B12 shot and boosted
its energy level. It’s been especially gratifying to see young people in every
nook and cranny of the space.”

Salem Lutheran Church finds itself in a similar situation as many urban churches. Its building is bigger than the congregation needs.
An interview with Building and Office Manager Paul Livdahl fills in the
back story. When Salem started 110 years ago, local Norwegian, Swedish and
German Lutheran churches were losing their young people, because they didn’t want to stick with the old languages. In a controversial move, Salem opened its doors and proclaimed that its services would be in English.

It grew rapidly. At its height, it may have had 2,000-3,000 members
(records are sketchy). A series of additions made the building very large by the middle of the 1960’s. It has a hall for nursery school, a large education hall, a youth hall, a dining hall, and a large meeting hall. The sanctuary seats about 1,000, plus a balcony. There is also a small chapel that seats about 100. “About the time the church finished this building program, its congregation started to shrink,” says Livdahl.

Membership figures from the Evangelical Lutheran Church bear this out. The drop has been about 70 percent in 20 years, and has leveled off
with an average attendance of about 100 since 1995. Ironically, it
was the exodus of a different second generation that explains this. “A lot of
people, children who grew up here, moved to the suburbs,” says Livdahl.
“The neighborhood became a lot more transient. People move in and out, and aren’t ready to set roots down. Plus, a transient population has fewer kids.”

YPC is a good fit with the exposure and outreach goals of Salem. ”They would
be bringing in young families, and would be more of a presence. They are
looking for a place that is closer to the kids they serve, and the community they serve. Our space has a visible parking lot, parking in general that they
don’t have now, and it’s a good space for them. They would also be more of a
presence in Uptown. They have a great reputation for shows and as an organization.”

Though the congregation has shrunk, Salem is not in any imminent danger.
My discussion with Mr. Livdahl ended on the optimistic note that the church
wanted to be more of an arts center, and would look for rental clients in that
direction. I commented that while arts groups needed cheap space, the
established ones could be pretty reliable, as in the example of the YPC. Livdahl agreed. “It seems to be the best way be can be of service to this neighborhood too,” he said.