Rural Rockstar: Bill Hedges, a community development pioneer

Small Towns

We are pleased to announce Bill Hedges of Lyons, Neb. is the recipient of our 2015 Bob Steffen Pioneer Award. Bill was honored for his integrity, leadership, and extraordinary efforts in community development at a special awards banquet in March.

Bill is a cultural icon in Lyons. He came back to his hometown of Lyons to create a unique cultural space he named Cosmic Studios. A lifelong movie buff, Bill bought the old theater building where he worked as a projectionist in his teens. There he recreated his favorite film sets, notably the spaceship from the ‘Lost in Space’ television series, and established a studio for filmmakers to use.

When the Center's Byway of Art project proposed a rollout theater site as a community art project in 2014, Bill created a companion piece of art. He envisioned and directed a community documentary film, dubbed “Decades,” to recreate scenes of Lyons’ main street through the years, involving local actors, period costumes, and classic cars.

Bill recruited community members to conduct the historical research and to throng the streets for the filming. The premiere showing of "Decades" became the inaugural event for the opening of the Storefront Theater on a warm November evening in 2015.

Beyond that, Bill allowed use of his studio as a literal staging ground, donating a living space for the artist-in-residence, supplying tools, and most importantly, volunteering his time for the project. He consented to numerous interviews with radio and TV reporters, bringing attention to the potential for community-based art to raise up the community. Lyons’ new Storefront Theater will continue to be a success well into the future because of Bill Hedges’ quiet leadership, his creativity, and enthusiasm for community cinema.

The Bob Steffen Pioneer Award is given each year to someone who has made an extraordinary contribution to the work of the Center for Rural Affairs in the area of innovation, stewardship, or community development. Bob Steffen was a pioneer in sustainable agriculture, organic farming, and biodynamics. He helped found the Nebraska Sustainable Ag Society and was a founding member of the Center for Rural Affairs Board of Directors. He made a mark in Nebraska and beyond.