What a year, eh? The RiverTown newsroom looked back on 2020 to compile lists of the most important news and sports stories covered by the Star-Observer and Republican Eagle. Check back to Top 10 Stories of 2020 over the next few days to see what made the cut.

HUDSON -- A year full of unknowns for the arts community was also one of transition for The Phipps Center for the Arts.

As the center worked to deal with the closures and changing landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic, it also welcomed new leadership.

Longtime Director John Potter retired in July after 35 years, his time spanning nearly the entire life of the center.

Darby Lunceford stepped up as the new director, bringing his marketing and administration experience from Broadway, LA, and most recently Minneapolis with the Minnesota Opera. He was excited for the new role and opportunities, and determined to take on the challenges.

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“The Phipps is not going to be defeated,” he said in August.

Looking back at the year in December, Lunceford said it has gone as well as it could, given the pandemic. As it has with most industries this year, he said COVID has meant making plans and changing them as needed.

“This organization in particular -- the staff, the board, all the volunteers, the council members -- I think everybody’s embraced that concept that we have to be nimble, we have to take things as it goes and make a plan and change the plan,” Lunceford said.

After COVID first hit, and then continued to drag on, Luncedford said they learned they could not just wait for it to disappear. So instead they worked to put parameters in place and find ways to safely bring art and theater to the community.

That work is one of the biggest successes of Lunceford’s time with The Phipps so far.

“I'm extremely proud that we have expedited a COVID safety plan and, you know, fingers crossed at this point, we've been able to keep everybody safe,” he said.

The Phipps was able to bring live theater back to its stage, with masks and smaller audiences. “Brother’s Grimm: Out of Order” and “Cinder-Elfa” were performed by the children’s theater. And Potter was no stranger after his departure, directing the one-man show “A Christmas Carol: The Radio Show.” New galleries also opened in the building.

In addition to keeping those that visit safe, Lunceford said he’s proud that the Phipps found ways for those who can’t come in to participate in some way.

“That’s where the digital side comes in,” he said.

The annual Spirit of the St. Croix Valley moves its art sale online, and virtual tours of the galleries were made available.

Though the vaccine news seems to be good, the current conditions will likely continue into the summer. The Phipps is planning with that in mind, looking at offerings that keep everyone as safe as possible and mix in-person, socially distanced and virtual options.

“It’s a great testament to the organization to look ahead and say, we know this is going to still be an issue, so let’s take what we’ve learned, let’s apply it, let’s commit ourselves,” he said.

The organization is looking at new initiatives during COVID that can serve not just as a temporary due to the pandemic, but advance the mission in the long run.

Though it’s been an uphill battle this year, Lunceford said he’s enjoyed it. He especially appreciated the chance to tell The Phipps’s story.

“There’s such a uniqueness about this organization,” he said. “And I don’t know that everybody knows how it all works in the fact that we do hand the power of artistic programming to the community.”