Nonprofit Performance 360 Issue 12

Nonprofits that Work Together

Crafting a Community-Wide Project GEOFFREY KERSHNER

26 I Professional Performance The theatre was segregated when it closed. It still has its separate ticket booth and Growing up in this community gave me a vantage point on how our community operates and what it needs. I’ve also lived in other communities that performed downtown redevelopment. Seeing that, along with being from here, has had a lot of impact on what we do here. We are the Academy Center of the Arts, an arts organization serving the 250,000 people in the greater Lynchburg, Virginia area. Our facility is made up of multiple historic buildings. Our anchor is a theatre which has just been restored. We also have a warehouse that was converted into a flexible black box space, gallery space, a pottery studio, an educational facility, art studio spaces, and dance studios. The Academy Theatre is the story of downtown America. It was built in 1905, burned in 1911, and was rebuilt in 1912. It was thriving during the vaudeville era, and later transformed into a second-rate movie house. In 1958, with downtown deterioration, the Academy closed. Now there is a renewed interest in the downtown and its development. It’s the only one standing of nine original theaters in Lynchburg. This theatre is still here because it was designated as a historic landmark in the 1970s to stop the Virginia highway system from bulldozing it. After sitting empty for 60 years, it will reopen in December 2018.

When I started in 2015, there was a sense among city leadership that they were either going to get this figured out and the money raised within the next couple of years, or the property value was going to be too high and this building would become something else, like the Urban Outfitters in a former vaudeville-era theater in Charleston, South Carolina. The organization didn’t have a clear identity and everyone valued the theatre for different reasons. We needed values that translated internally and out to the world, linking all those things. The Lynchburg Fine Arts Center wanted to provide fine arts culture. It merged with an organization to restore the historic theatre. Those two missions were at odds, but we pushed service as our mission, fit around the theatre’s renovation. We could discuss tourism and economic viability for the city with people concerned with the building’s historic nature. For those who care about the arts and their benefit to the community, we could discuss who we are, who we are partnering with, and how the arts provide a mechanism for other organizations to promote what they are doing in education or improving quality of life. We also changed the name of the organization from the Academy of Fine Arts. We wanted a brand that felt vibrant, relevant, new, and symbolized our future, which was more inclusive, accessible, open, and welcoming. We created a

staircase that led up to a separate balcony. The first event happening in the space is a celebration of the integration of the space. We worked with our local NAACP and black fraternity and sorority groups and youth programs. Astronaut Leland Melvin, a Lynchburg native, is hosting the event. Diamond Hill Baptist Choir will be performing. New artist Devon Gilfillian is opening for our featured artist, Mavis Staples. With only one opportunity to reopen, we want to send a clear message that this is a space for the future, and it is inclusive of everybody. We were also concerned about economic accessibility. If you wanted to see this theatre, we wanted you to have the ability to do that. We have a total of about 10 events throughout opening week with various price points. Getting Started This amazing $30 million renovation project was a community-wide effort. Lynchburg, Virginia, is not a large city, but this was possible because all sectors were involved: individual donors, the city, the state, historic tax credits, the federal government, and most of the largest corporations in the city.This was something to unify our community.

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