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10/25/2017 12:22:00 PM
Feasibility study offers ideas for rehabilitation of Madison's Ohio Theatre
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Renee Bruck, Madison Courier

An initial report from a feasibility study on Madison’s historic downtown theater recommends renovations to the space and provides ideas of how the structure could be used as a multi-purpose performing arts venue.

Christina Kruise with Webb Management Services, a management consulting firm for arts and cultural facilities, discussed the findings of the study on the Ohio Theatre earlier this week. 

Recommendations include reopening the balcony to the main house, utilizing the flat floor near the stage for possible orchestra and performance opportunities, and marketing the theater as a regional destination.

A second phase of the study will focus on physical plans, cost estimates, equipment needs and future staff and funding needs.

Kruise provided an overview of recent trends for spaces much like the Ohio Theatre and noted declines in both traditional arts audiences and traditional public-sector arts funding. 

Nonprofit art groups have had a tough time recently, yet even with those decreases, Kruise said trends show an increase in active arts participation and sector-driven education and outreach.

With the trends in mind, arts facilities have turned passive participation into active programs by hosting hands-on workshops and classes.

“It’s about creating those experiences,” Kruise said.

She suggested a space that would allow for a traditional movie theater, as well as a possible space for orchestra and other musical performances, stage theater and other performing-arts productions and art showcases.

Arts facilities also are beginning to focus on being a destination within cultural areas, instead of a single destination, by creating a social experience with affordable access for communities. The spaces are becoming more inclusive and becoming a community gathering space where everyone can go to learn or enjoy special events, Kruise said.

Madison, one of the Indiana Cultural Districts, already serves as a destination and hub for arts activities. The renovation of the Ohio Theatre could fill gaps in the local area for higher-quality facilities and a larger space for arts activities and events, a need identified through the study.

Other broader goals of the project would include improvements to sense of place and quality of life, tourism development, commercial development, economic development and historic preservation.

Friends of the Ohio Theatre President Elizabeth Auxier said after the presentation that the first phase of the study showed much of what she was expecting.

“I wasn’t surprised by most of the results,” she said. “Our gut instinct was (the balcony) needed to be open.”

Auxier said she hopes to see the balcony reopened to the main floor but still retain the option to temporarily close the space if needed to allow for a classroom space or smaller performance space.

“We like the flexibility of their recommendations right now,” she said.

The next phase of the project will be the most exciting, Auxier said. The second phase will include a more detailed timeline of how to continue with the needed renovations. 

She hopes for that next step to be finished within the next four months.

Looking forward, Auxier hopes to continue events and operations at the theatre through 2018 to celebrate it’s 80th anniversary as the group begins its capital campaign, then closing in 2019 for significant renovations.

Copyright 2017, The Madison Courier

Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR

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