The Winthrop Auditorium Association is throwing a party for itself this weekend — and why not? The nonprofit group that operates the Winthrop Barn thinks it’s about time for the community to pay some overt attention to the history, value and future of that venerable building. Might as well accomplish that with a great dinner, music, prizes and a generally festive evening. It’s free, and you’re all invited.
The Barn is a landmark, a symbol, a touch-point for community connectivity. It is so fundamental to the town (which owns it) and the valley (which uses the heck out of it) that we may tend to forget that it wasn’t always there, and won’t always be there without continued support.
Over the years, the Barn has served as the go-to venue for thousands of events. It’s still an attractive, comfortable, functional building, intended to accommodate a universal range of activities. Think of how many times you’ve been there — can you even calculate it? I don’t think I can, and I’ve only been here eight years.
But like any aging facility, the Barn needs upgrades, improvements and some additions to continue meeting all the demands placed on it. We’ve invested too much in the Barn to let it slide.
A vibrant community is always planning ahead, and the things we want sometimes relegate to neglect the things we take for granted. That’s a human inclination, and not always uncaring or inattentive. It’s just that we’re energetically looking to the future — often past what is right in front of us because, well, it’s always been there and seems to be working OK.
What can get lost in that necessary aim toward the future is the recognition that we are building on our foundational past. In the Methow Valley, that means something. The things we think of as “institutional” here — the Barn, the ball field, the Methow Valley Community Center, the Winthrop Rink, TwispWorks, the Wagner Pool, Westernization, the recreational trails system and more — didn’t just spontaneously pop up. All required vision, planning, perseverance and a lot of community support — money, volunteer hours, in-kind donations.
That Methow Valley model for adding amenities has been successful over and over. Each was in its own way a personal project for many valley residents, for the benefit of us all. And each demonstrated the power of commitment to something we believe in. We are seeing that played out right now in the efforts to build a new library in Winthrop. Determined people have a way of making dreams into reality.
Like all things we treasure in the valley, the Barn has its own compelling story. For a look at the building’s history, and the extraordinary efforts that went into its construction, take a look at Ashley Lodato’s article on page B1 of this week’s newspaper. You’ll be impressed by the devotion and ingenuity of the small group that launched the effort to replace an old Quonset hut that had collapsed under a 1971 snowstorm. The replacement building — the one we enjoy now — was finished in 1983, and since then has become part of our lore.
The problem with community institutions is that with institutionality comes a kind of benign expectation that, once set in motion, things will continue as they are. In fact, each of those institutions needs constant care and vigilance to retain their literal and figurative value. Our responsibility doesn’t come with an expiration date.
The Winthrop Auditorium Association could make that argument to justify a fundraising campaign with the usual appeals to community generosity and self-interest. But the group would rather use this weekend’s party to simply raise awareness and appreciation.
There is also, Auditorium Association board members will concede, a political motivation. The Barn of course generates revenue, but also relies on the town for support so that it can essentially break even. Association President Rick Northcott, a former mayor and Town Council member, isn’t shy about asserting that the town has sometimes seemed indifferent to the Barn’s needs, and he wants to heighten the facility’s profile when it comes to allotting funds for improvements. The association has come up with a long list of desirables, from expensive to relatively minor, that would enhance operations at the Barn and perhaps make it even more popular for all users, current and potential. Keeping the Red Barn in the black requires such foresight.
That’s something to think about. But on Saturday, let’s just get together for a good time and enjoy each other’s company.
Admission to the Barn Appreciation Night is free — pick up a ticket at no charge at the Hank’s Harvest Foods customer service counter or at the Winthrop Store.