Lyons Storefront Theater Honored with National Award

Small Towns

By Elisha Smith, former staff member

“Too often we think that you have to go to the big city to get your arts and culture fix. This project is about demonstrating that we can and do have interesting arts and cultural infrastructure in small towns. If we can do this in Lyons, Nebraska, it can be done anywhere.” -Center for Rural Affairs Executive Director Brian Depew

We are happy to announce the Storefront Theater located in Lyons, Neb., has been selected and recognized as part of the Americans for the Arts 2016 Public Art Network (PAN) Year in Review program, the only national program that specifically recognizes the most compelling public art.

The works were chosen from 260 entries across the country and recognized today at Americans for the Arts’ 2016 Annual Convention in Boston.

“These Public Art Network Year in Review selections illustrate that public art has the power to enhance our lives on a scale that little else can,” said Robert L. Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts. “Whether subtly beautiful or vibrantly jolting, a public artwork has the singular ability to make citizens going about everyday business stop, think, and through the power of art appreciate a moment, no matter how brief.”

The Lyons Storefront Theater, one of 38 outstanding public art projects honored, is site-specific community artwork developed by the Center for Rural Affairs and artist Matthew Mazzotta from the stories of Lyons residents, and built by Lyons’ skilled craftspeople and community volunteers during the summer and fall of 2015.

The Storefront Theater is an outdoor movie theater that uses a formerly empty storefront on Main Street as its site. What looks like an ordinary storefront facade, actually opens up and folds down over the sidewalk onto Main Street.

The front of the building has been modified with two hydraulic pump arms so that the awning and false front of the building are one unit and can fold down over the sidewalk with the push of a button. Cushioned bleacher seats (seating up to 80 people) pull out from inside the structure for people to sit and watch a performance or a movie on the other side of the street.

The idea was born from interest in revitalizing the downtown core of this 850-person town. Both the seats and the screen can retract and disappear when not in use giving the impression that there is nothing unusual about the space, with only the word of mouth accounts to keep people interested.

Storefront Theater is part of the Byway of Art project, a network of four community-specific artworks in northeastern Nebraska. The regional project is a collaborative effort between the communities of Decatur, Lyons, Macy, and Oakland, and the Center for Rural Affairs, and is made possible with funding from ArtPlace America.

Interest in Lyons and in surrounding communities, in utilizing the theater is growing. During summer 2016, the theater will feature a play, music concerts, and video game nights as well as films and documentaries. This past fall, local filmmaker Bill Hedges used the theater to debut his film "Decades," a documentary about the history of Lyons since the 1860s.

In addition to the exciting news of being recognized by the Americans for the Arts, the Center for Rural Affairs was recently contacted by an international, award winning filmmaker who plans to come to Lyons in August 2016 to do a short documentary on the project. This is a great opportunity to showcase not only the theater, but the community of Lyons as well.

For more information on Americans for the Arts, click here. You can see the press release here.