News From Indiana Reminds Us: Never Underestimate the Power of Nostalgia

We here at IP are pop culture junkies. One of my favorite shows is Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Perhaps you're familiar. The show finds dilapidated homes and, with the help of local contractors, "makes over" the property. 

And if executives behind the program are looking for spin-off ideas, we'd like to suggest they check out work being done in Jasper, Indiana, where a nonprofit was set up for the primary purpose of restoring an aging and deserted theater. 

That's right, it's Extreme Theater Makeover: Nonprofit Edition.

Let's meet the players, shall we?

First, we have Next Act. Inc., a nonprofit whose mission is to "enhance the quality of life in Dubois County in a rich and meaningful way." The first item on their to-do list? Restore the beautiful Astra Theatre in the town of Jasper. 

By creating a "unique arts and entertainment venue that will serve once again as a strong community gathering place," the restoration of the theatre, Next Act argues, will serve a very real and meaningful goal.

Needless to say, this resonated with community stakeholders. The project received a critical boost in the form of a $100,000 matching grant through the Dubois County Community Foundation. The grant will help fund a $300,000 endowment designed to assist in the maintenance of the old theatre. The group will also be raising $165,000 for the purchase of the theatre as part of phase one of a plan to reopen it.

Two things jump out at us here. First, Next Act could have been content with raising just enough funds to purchase, restore, and reopen the theatre. That alone would have been a tremendous success. But they astutely realized that running a community theatre is no easy task. And so they are pushing the $300,000 endowment as a mechanism to "maintain the community asset for the long term."

Overly ambitious? Possibly. A smart move to ensure it withstands the inevitable swoons that can cripple community theaters? Absolutely. 

Second, let's not underestimate the power of nostalgia within the context of any fundraising push. Lisa Hamby, a member of Next Act, noted, "The Astra holds a special place in many community members' hearts. It is firmly rooted in our community's history."

Residents of cities like Jasper vividly recall the deterioration of their downtown areas during the 80s and 90s as Wal-Marts moved in and jobs and residents moved to the suburbs. Revitalization efforts need a symbol for community stakeholders to rally around, and in the case of Jasper and the work of the optimistically named Next Act, they found it with the Jasper Theatre.

Click here for related analysis looking at how the Milwaukee Repertory Theater netted a $250,000 grant to renovate its dilapidated property.