Lyric Center seeks to spark downtown Virginia revival

The main stage area of the historic Lyric Theater is still years away from being fully restored. The volunteer theater organization moves toward the next stage of the Lyric’s development with a 100 seat performance area and downtown storefront. (IMAGE: Cinema Treasures)

This Friday, June 16, the Lyric Center for the Arts in downtown Virginia, Minnesota, will hold a silent film festival to raise money for its long range restoration plans. The event will feature brews from Castle Danger brewery in Northern Minnesota and a wide range of classic silent films like the ones that would have played there almost a century ago.

I’ve written about the Lyric Center for the Arts before. At one time, the Lyric Opera House represented the spirit of early Iron Range residents. The idea that working class people should have access to world class education and the arts created upward mobility for generations of Northern Minnesotans. Unfortunately, the gravity of the region’s natural resource-based economy took many of the arts venues with it.

Not so for the Lyric. It’s still here, though in need of many repairs to be a theater again. That’s where Friday’s event comes in.

About $25,000 remains to be raised in order to complete the storefront reconstruction phase of rehabilitation of the Lyric Center for the Arts. The Lyric has recently received a pledge for a $10,000 match for this summer’s campaign to finish funding for this project. Those involved in supporting the Lyric through this phase believe strongly that the Lyric Center for the Arts can be the spark that sets off more downtown revitalization, spreading through the Virginia Commercial Historic District and, over time, restoring this cherished main street.

The 2017 summer campaign has been named “Sparklers and Sprinklers,” expressing, with some humor, the vision of a restored (and adequately sprinkled) multi-use building with a gem of a theater hidden in the rear. Our kick-off event is a craft beer tasting with Castle Danger and an old-fashioned silent film festival at the Lyric Annex featuring the 1931 Charlie Chaplin film, City Lights. Individual ticket price is $25, complete with popcorn and beer tasting. Buy 2 tickets at a discount for $20 each. Sparklers and Sprinklers kicks off on Friday, June 16, with follow-up events in July and August. Advanced tickets for each night can be purchased at Brown Paper Tickets. The films will be shown in the Lyric Annex, 516 Chestnut Street, downtown Virginia!

Some might say that a theater won’t produce enough economic impact to truly turn things around in a town like Virginia. After all, jobs, jobs, jobs. But what I and others have argued is that economic self-determination begins with attitude and pride. Job creation is an outcome we want, but getting there becomes significantly more difficult if the town lacks appeal for young professionals, families, tourists and retirees.

As this interview in the Daily Yonder shows, the restoration of an old theater in Albion, Michigan, coupled with a renewed focus on live music, is paying off.

No one thing will revitalize the Iron Range. But every example of pride and progress will combine to create a shared solution.

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