The Bohm theater in downtown Albion has been defunct for years, and many Albion College students never think twice about it.
However, there is a growing effort by the Albion Community Foundation to renovate the theater and have it ready for a December 2014 re-opening.The theater closed in November 2008 after a host of problems, such as tax defaults.
Elizabeth Schultheiss, Albion Community Foundation executive director, is spearheading the effort to save the Bohm.
“When the Bohm shut down, the community had to decide whether we wanted to knock it down and have a big hole in the downtown,” Schultheiss said. “However, it would cost about as much to tear the Bohm down as to restore it. So the project started from there.”
Since the Albion Community Foundation took over the project in March 2010, over $500,000 in state grants have been poured into exterior renovations, such as marquee maintenance and project planning for the restoration.
The next step for the Foundation’s effort is to obtain a grant from State Farm through a program that sponsors youth engagement.
State Farm is putting on a contest for a grant of $25,000, and 3,000 projects applied. From that 3,000, 200 made the cut for final consideration. Of these last 200, the project with the most votes will win the grant.
“The Bohm project made the cut to the final 200, something we’re very proud of,” Schultheiss said. “In terms of votes, we’re hovering between second and fourth place.”
Schultheiss is also trying to harness the power of the student body of Albion College to garner support for the Bohm remodeling.
“One of the hardest markets for us to tap into is college students,” Schultheiss said. “Except for The Pleiad, we lack a venue for the Albion community to speak to the campus.”
Schultheiss wants to use the restored Bohm as a way to incorporate the college into the greater Albion community.
“The new Bohm will be a home for both stage and screen, as well as being a venue for musical acts,” Schultheiss said. “We’re interested in what college students might want to see at the Bohm, and we’d be interested in co-sponsoring Union Board events, as well.”
The theater could become part of Albion’s nightlife, as well.
“We could even obtain one-day beer and one licenses if they could bolster an event,” Schultheiss said.
The project’s community support in the State Farm voting contest is evident, but support has also come from outside Albion.
David W. King, director of the Jackson Film Festival, is interested in filming a documentary about the Bohm restoration. King and two documentarians who created a film about the restoration of the Michigan Theater in Jackson, Phillip Assenmacher and Jason Smith, visited the Bohm on April 14 to see the theater.
“Like the Bohm, the Michigan Theater has a lot of history, and the community took a huge role in that project as well,” Assenmacher said. “All the volunteers who put together funding and continue to put together shows played a huge part.”
Smith sees venues such as the Bohm and Michigan theaters as ways to give outlets to the arts in the community.
“The way the Michigan Theater in Jackson is modeled is after the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor,” Smith said. “The way it works is that if someone in the community wants to put a project on, they can. Every Sunday from three to five, anyone can use the theater. They can play a concert, show a movie or do stand-up comedy. It’s something our community in Jackson desperately needed and something Albion can use, too.”
Schultheiss plans to engage the college and community in a similar way.
“We plan to have some paid staff, but our primary workforce will be volunteers,” Schultheiss said. “There will be opportunities for college students to work with the theater, helping decide what films an programs are screened. They can have a hand in a big part of Albion. We can even have work-study placements at the Bohm.”
All invoved in the project are eager to bring the Bohm back and use the arts to breathe some life into a town that has lost direction in recent years.
“If there’s a disconnect between the college and the town, this is a great way to bridge that gap,” Smith said.
Assenmacher also felt excited about the film and theater project.
“This is something I’m very excited to see all the way through,” Assenmacher said. “I can’t believe it will be done by December 2014.”
Schultheiss is confident in the Bohm project’s ability to inspire the community.
“People are seeing that Albion wants to improve,” Schultheiss said. “Grant providers notice that people want to make a difference in their community, even if it’s something like improving the sidewalks. We want to be a community that provides opportunities for everyone that lives here.”
Vote for the Bohm project by following the link below. Each visitor to the site can vote as many as ten times a day. Voting ends April 22.
Like the Bohm Theater on Facebook to get updates on the effort: http://facebook.com/FriendsOfTheBohmTheatre