Historic Opera House Makes Year-Round Space for the Arts

Earlville Opera HouseThe Earlville Opera House plays a vital role in a rural region that boasts few theaters or museums. Housed in an 1892 landmark building, the multi-arts center has been serving up a cultural banquet since 1971 that includes concerts by local, regional and nationally-known artists, drama and dance performances, musical theater, children's programs, art exhibits and arts education programs.

"We sometimes are ambassadors on behalf of various art forms," says Patti Lockwood-Blais, the organization's executive director. For example, to ease viewers into a new experience, EOH might pair an exhibit of slightly edgy contemporary art with a second show that people can relate to more easily. Also, the theater often hosts performers who rarely make it to a rural stage; Japanese taiko drummers, for instance, or the contemporary dance troupe Galumpha. EOH complements some of those shows with workshops to further illuminate the art form.

While attracting large, enthusiastic audiences, EOH also draws numerous volunteers. Board members staff the theater during shows; teachers, parents and librarians design educational programs; a presenting committee plans future performances; and a gallery committee helps to curate exhibits.

Over the past several years, EOH has been renovating the building to preserve it, make it more accessible and accommodate a full menu of programs not just seasonally, but throughout the year. With a $5,000 grant toward the latest phase of renovations, the Community Foundation has helped EOH replace its damaged roof, add heat to one of the galleries and weatherize the theater to prepare it for its own heating system.

"The impact that we've been able to enjoy the most has been the heating of our West Gallery and workshop space," says Lockwood-Blais. This year, for the first time, EOH held classes there in January through April. The organization has always run exhibits in winter, "but you couldn't take your coat off," she says. Now visitors can enjoy art in comfort year-round.

In the theater, renovations included the replacement of the original doors and windows. "That is a huge change for us, to have windows that actually shut, and now even storm windows over them," says Lockwood-Blais. "It's going to be much easier to heat the theater." EOH might rent portable heaters this year to give the space a head start on its new life as a 12-month performance venue.

For residents of Earlville and surrounding communities, those improvements add up to an even richer, more extensive cultural feast.

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