Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 20, 2013

Leelanau center upgrades old building

BY GRETCHEN MURRAY Special to the Record-Eagle
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — LELAND — The Leelanau Community Cultural Center is keeping stride with modern technology while maintaining the original vintage charm of its Old Art Building.

Recent renovations to the 90-year old building, including a new surround sound system, a large movie screen, a ceiling-mounted projector and DVD player and a lighting control board, have enabled the Leland-based nonprofit to bring to the community the W.T. Best Theater, the area’s newest film and live performance venue.

Judy Livingston, the nonprofit’s program director, said the new capabilities will provide the Old Art Building the ability to teach film classes and show classic and contemporary films, and the new projection system will allow a variety of multi-media presentations to be shown at meetings and classes.

In addition, plans are underway to offer weekly summer movie nights on Tuesday evenings beginning June 25.

Livingston said the new, 199-seat theater, named in honor of Walter T. Best, the patriarch of the family responsible for building the Old Art Building in 1921, is a nod to the building’s original connection to performing arts.

“Walter T. Best was known in the theatrical world of the early 1900s as ‘Maro the Magician,’” Livingston said. “He and his wife Allie Kaiser Best were well-known summer residents from Chicago. After Walter died, Allie made her home in Leland where she organized the local women’s club and named it after him. She also envisioned a community center for visual and performing arts and organized the Leland Follies to raise money for the project to be built in his memory.”

Livingston said the women’s club leased the building to Michigan State University, which used it as a summer art school from 1939 to 1989. The building sat vacant for several years before being returned to the township in 1992 when the nonprofit was formed to bring the building back into public use.

“The first two years were spent fundraising for large projects like a new furnace and roof,” Livingston said. “Over time, the stage was renovated with curtains, but the focus remained on offering art classes, exhibits and community programs. In 2010 a capital campaign was launched to expand the building into a performing arts center.”

The upcoming summer film offerings will have PG or PG-13 ratings and admission will be by donation. The weekly schedule will be posted on the Old Art Building’s website and on its Facebook page.

Livingston said performances by noted local artists also are on tap this summer.

“I predict we will expand what we offer into the offseason, and that the films and performing arts programs will eventually go year-round,” Livingston said. “We want this to become a regional attraction, and we want to put out as much as we can for our full-time residents. Financially, they are supporting us. In return, we are continually improving our offerings.”