MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

February 23, 2014

AIM plan would create cultural district

Not every child is a born athlete, and sitting home in front of the TV or playing video games is not always the best choice, said David Eckerson.

He wants more for his two daughters. Eckerson, president of Muskogee Little Theatre Board of Directors, said his daughters are active in theater. He and Coni Wetz, MLT executive director, are beaming for “the next stage” that will give Eckerson’s daughters and others more opportunities.

The Action In Muskogee committee has plans to create an arts and cultural district south of downtown Muskogee that would be anchored by a new Muskogee Little Theatre. Theater productions, summer youth theater camp, private vocal instruction and workshops are held in the old school auditorium at D and Cincinnati streets. That’s been its location since 1972.

Wetz wrote grants and received funding from the City of Muskogee Foundation to get the building project started. Then, AIM listed as its top priority from Muskogee citizens was downtown revitalization, Wetz said.

“Downtowns are reinventing across the nation with arts and cultural centers,” Wetz said. “It’s proven.”

MLT received a $5.5 million grant from the City of Muskogee with a total budget for the new building at $6.5 million. The city of Muskogee donated the land just north of the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame so that all the funding could go into the new MLT building.

“We’ve been challenged to raise the first million dollars,” Wetz said. “We would love to raise more than the million and make this facility even nicer. Muskogee citizens have stepped up, but we are not there yet.”

Eckerson said looking down the road in 10 years, he sees MLT in a new location that would combine a new theater, Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame, Three Rivers Museum, Muskogee Civic Center and the Roxy Theater into one central cultural district.

“Not only will a cultural district add value to the city of Muskogee and promote tourism, but AIM has identified the revitalization of downtown through the creation of a cultural district as one of its top priorities, and I think they are right on track,” he said. “It has been proven that the arts contribute to a stronger economy, enriched quality of life, improved academics and revitalized communities.”

In 10 years, Wetz sees bars and restaurants in the cultural district that provides people with places to go before or after the theater.

“I hope it spurs growth,” she said. “It’s a collaborative effort with Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame and Muskogee Little Theatre.”

The new MLT will have a 15,020-square-foot, two-story, state-of-the-art performing arts facility. There will be the main stage and auditorium seating 260, and the black box theater — an open and flexible performance space for youth theater, senior theater, dinner theater and theater in the round, chamber operas and cabaret performances, recitals, acting classes and workshops, and extra rehearsal space.

MLT already offers free performances to at-risk youth groups and students at the Oklahoma School for the Blind.

“As our community’s theater, it is important to serve all of our community,” Wetz said.

At each performance, guests are asked to donate to the June Edmondson Scholarship Fund which helps children attend summer theater camp.

“MLT is not only entertainment, but it provides a creative outlet and has enriched the lives of my whole family,” Eckerson said. “Muskogee is a great city with lots to offer its citizens. We have an excellent sports complex, we have good places to eat, decent places to shop, and we have bits and pieces here and there of things to do that entertain people.”

He sees the MLT expanding and increasing the opportunities available to the young and old.

“The opportunities for children would be much greater, allowing for a little diversity in their lives,” he said. “In all, a new MLT seated at the center of a cultural district will make Muskogee a better place and enrich the quality of life of everyone that comes into contact with it.”

Muskogee Little Theatre Inc.

ADDRESS: D and Cincinnati streets.

HOURS: Theater productions start at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, or 2 p.m. on Sundays.

SERVICES OFFERED: In addition to productions, MLT has an education department where summer youth theater camp, private vocal instruction and workshops are offered.

PHONE: (918) 683-5332.

WEBSITE: muskogeelittletheatre.com.

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