By Kevin Edwards
BC Staff Writer
Delta Arts Alliance will hold an opening of the Ellis Theater auditorium on Dec. 6 at 6 p.m. in a limited seating members-only event.
The event is the first opportunity to reveal the extensive work that has been done to the Ellis Theater’s internal housing.
The main theater’s renovation follow years of work and remodeling to restore the Ellis Theater to a pristine condition, an effort that Rori Heribson, executive director of Delta Arts Alliance, has seen emerge in the entirety of her time with the organization.
“I’ve been in the organization for seven years,” Herbison said. “Literally, my first day, the floor was still in its resting period. They had just cemented the floor and there’s that 28-day period where you can’t even walk on it.
“To open those doors now and see it, it’s still surreal. To think how much time, how much effort, how much perseverance has gone into this project.”
“This has been a long time in the making and we finally got the funding to do most of the work so that we could complete the renovation of the theater in the back,” said Susannah Wessel, vice president of Delta Arts Alliance.
“Now it’s time for the big reveal and we are really hoping that this will be something that the community will really all have a part in.”
The Ellis Theater is used as Delta Arts Alliance’s home for arts education and development.
“Before they started the work in the summer, when you walked back there, it was just brick walls and all of the old chairs were back there, and really it was just being used for storage,” said Wessel.
Improvements to the theater included putting sheet rock over the old brick and re-installing the original light fixtures.
A large projector screen has been installed that will lower from the ceiling.
Wessel said that the original chairs were beyond repair but to keep the history around, Delta State University art professor Michael Stanley converted the scrap into new railings.
Wessel estimated the cost of the project to be about $500,000.
Private fundraising, along with grants from the Mississippi Arts Commission and Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area helped cover the costs.
As the theater holds a spot on the Mississippi Department of Archives and History registry, guidelines had to be followed as to what could and could not be done to the theater.
“That put some conditions and placements on us as we moved through the renovation,” Herbison said. “Just making sure that as we were completing the project and as we were making decisions about the project that we were appreciating the history that this building once had and making sure that we honored that in some way.”
Wessel said the theater’s renovation allows for the continued work of Delta Arts Alliance.
“When the Delta Arts Alliance was formed and the city ceded this property to the Delta Arts Alliance, then it was a dream to be able to renovate the theater and be able to get back in there because we realized that it can really expand our reach and the programs that we can offer through the Delta Arts Alliance and continuing to bring art to students throughout the Delta.
“We want the community to feel like this is theirs just as much as it is Delta Arts Alliance. Not only have they supported it, but also this is a building that is there for the community and offers lots of potential for different things that we can do there.”
Herbison acknowledged the work of all that worked on the project.
“If I started getting into naming names, it would be disastrous because I’m sure I’d leave someone off,” Herbison said. “This has really been something that each iteration of our board of directors has supported and has seen the value in. I don’t think that should be taken for granted or taken lightly.
“The joy and the satisfaction and the gratification in that is it’s been a long time coming and that more than anything it thrills me to see so many people’s good work, hard work, energy and efforts come to fruition.”
The event will feature performances from Bev Card, who Herbison credited as organizing the night’s lineup; Bob Wilbanks, former president of the DAA board; Cade Holder, arts education director at the Bologna Performing Arts Center; Grammy award winning musician Tricia Walker; and artist-in-residence LaToya Edwards.
Heavy hors d’oeuvres and wine will be served.
The event has limited seating and is members-only, but Delta Arts Alliance encourages the enlistment of new members if any are interested.
To become a member or make a reservation, call 662-843-3344.