Centrum’s Michelle Hagewood, left, and Robert Birman are collaborating with Madrona MindBody Institute co-owner Renee Klein, center, to expand use of the Madrona building at Fort Worden State Park. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/for Peninsula Daily News)

Centrum’s Michelle Hagewood, left, and Robert Birman are collaborating with Madrona MindBody Institute co-owner Renee Klein, center, to expand use of the Madrona building at Fort Worden State Park. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/for Peninsula Daily News)

Centrum to stretch out at Madrona MindBody Institute

Pandemic pushes change for arts organizations at Fort Worden

PORT TOWNSEND — Through this pandemic spring, summer and fall, people have gone to Madrona MindBody Institute to dance, stretch, meditate and pedal spin bikes. Meanwhile, the owners looked with worry at their finances.

In-person sessions with 10 or fewer participants — the limit during this recovery phase — plus a slate of virtual classes don’t sustain the 6,000-square-foot building at Fort Worden State Park. To add to the injury, all those people who used to go to Madrona’s workshops and retreats have ceased traveling.

“We started having conversations about what our options were,” said Renee Klein, co-owner with Anneli Molin-Skelton and Aletia Alvarez.

If the pandemic drought continued to deepen, the institute, opened 14 years ago, would have to either close or move to a much smaller space.

Those were painful prospects.

“We love our building,” Klein said. “It’s really a sanctuary. We have this enormous ballroom, 2,200 square feet.”

The three looked to a neighbor: Centrum. In addition to its internationally-known music workshops and festivals, the 48-year-old nonprofit organization hosts artists in residence, creative people who spend a week or a month making new work, immersed in the fort’s natural and historic surroundings.

Madrona and Centrum have much in common. Both seek to support artists in all forms, from modern dance to sculpture to blues and jazz.

Turns out they will make good roommates. The two have entered into a formal agreement to begin sharing the building in November.

For Madrona, it means survival; for Centrum, it means more room through which more artists can stretch out.

“The main focus in the short term, because of the pandemic, is to expand our residencies at Madrona’s space,” said Centrum executive director Robert Birman.

He and Michelle Hagewood, director of the residency program, envision artists in various disciplines using the building. Potential residents range from dancers, theater artists and choreographers to “visual artists that require movement in their work,” Birman said.

Imagine an abstract painter like Jackson Pollock having the space to dance with the muse, light streaming through Madrona’s wide windows, he added.

At the same time, the institute’s own wellness classes, open to the public, will go on. The schedule at MadronaMindBody.com lists 10 classes online and 10 in-person in the ballroom.

That open floor, Klein noted, has ample social-distancing space for the maximum 10 participants.

Madrona’s battery of safety protocols are also on the website while information is posted on the front of the building, No. 310 at the fort, and available by phoning 360-344-4475.

“We have spin [indoor cycling], yoga, Nia fusion fitness and conscious dance,” said Klein, adding she’s heard from people who call the online classes a lifeline; others come for the in-person energy in the ballroom.

Klein and her team of teachers hope to keep the mix and add more during the winter.

A free indoor-walking class starts next Wednesday, and it will continue “through the dark months,” Klein added.

Participants age 60 and older are invited to sign up weekly for the 45-minute walking sessions at 11 a.m.

For its part, Centrum is reinventing the way it hosts workshops around Fort Worden.

“We’re making an investment in technology that will allow us to broadcast from 10 different locations,” Birman said.

Madrona will be one: a turnkey broadcast space for lectures, performances and classes.

Yet winter will be relatively quiet.

Hagewood will move her office into one of Madrona’s smaller rooms while artists in residence continue their work.

As for Centrum’s writing, music and dance workshops and events, usually open for registration in November, signups should begin some time after the start of 2021 at Centrum.org.

“There’s too much uncertainty” in these next couple of months, Birman said.

He and Klein look forward to seeing Madrona — and the whole fort — pulsing with voices, dancing feet and live music.

“This partnership allows us to bridge to that day,” Klein said, “when our building will be filled with people again.”


Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.

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