Nonprofit gets support to purchase Astra

Photos by Heather Rousseau/The Herald
Courtney Knies, left, Jay Hamlin and Eddie Luegers, all members of Next Act Inc., were part of an announcement this morning at the Astra Theatre on the Square in downtown Jasper. Next Act. Inc revealed plans for a fundraising campaign to raise $465,000, which includes the $165,000 needed to buy the building and $300,000 for an endowment for the theater’s restoration. As part of the announcement, the Dubois County Community Foundation said it is giving the organization a $100,000 signature grant.

Herald Staff Writer

JASPER — In the main theater of the Astra, the Dubois County Community Foundation announced this morning its largest single grant to date. The grant is for a new nonprofit organization planning to buy the Astra Theatre and open the former movie theater as an arts facility.

A group of about 50 people gathered inside the theater at the southwest corner of the Square to learn that the foundation is giving Next Act Inc. a $100,000 Signature Grant for its efforts. Next Act, in turn, announced its plans for a fundraising campaign to gather $465,000, which includes the $165,000 needed to buy the building and $300,000 for an endowment for the theater’s restoration.

“For many of our community members, the Astra holds a special place in their heart. It’s firmly rooted in our community’s history,” said Leslie Hamby, board chairperson of Next Act’, which was formerly and briefly known as ASTRA Venture.

“We see the Astra project as embracing that history, but are also looking forward to creating a unique arts and entertainment venue that will serve once again as a strong community gathering place.”

On hand for this morning’s announcement was Hamby, DCCF President Brad Ward and board chairperson Bill Kaiser, Jasper Mayor Terry Seitz, Jasper Arts Director Kit Miracle and Dubois Strong President Ed Cole. Also in attendance were members of the community arts commission and the Next Act board.

“Today marks a significant investment in the arts, downtown revitalization, historic preservation and the repurposing of a community asset,” Ward said.

This is the foundation’s largest grant to date; the second-largest was $50,000 for Huntingburg’s Stellar Community efforts. Funding will come from more than 50 unrestricted endowments from individuals, businesses and community groups.

“The community foundation has long envisioned making a grant of significance toward a community project,” Ward said. “The fact that it is bridging generations of leadership in the formation of a new entity, partnering with a strong institution like the Jasper Community Arts Commission, benefitting our downtown (by) repurposing an old building and launching a new era for the performing arts is beyond what we could have imagined.”

The Signature Grant is a 2-to-1 matching grant. To receive the entire $100,000, $200,000 must be raised; combined, those funds will total the $300,000 needed to establish the endowment. Once the endowment is established, funds raised will go to purchasing the facility, Ward said.

The Astra opened in 1937 and closed in 2002. Since then, a few events have been held in the theater and interest in the theater percolated.

Opening the Astra Theatre for use is one of the projects listed in the city’s master plan for the downtown and riverfront area, Seitz said.

Attendees at this morning’s announcement of a grant for saving the historic Astra Theater in downtown Jasper raised their hands when Mayor Terry Seitz asked who has seen a film at the theater.

“In 2013, with the help of nearly 400 citizens, we put the focus of our community on this beautiful part of Jasper and created that plan,” he said. “Likewise, citizens not only from Jasper but from the surrounding area are driving the formation of Next Act Inc. to spearhead that new use for the Astra and to join in with city partnerships.”

A group of citizens representing various Dubois County communities approached the JCAC in October to discuss its desire to buy and reopen the 77-year-old building. The group’s tentative name was ASTRA Venture.

The arts commission has said it would be interested in managing the daily operation of the theater, which would be used for various artistic performances, if someone else were to purchase the facility. Since 2005, the commission has been looking to expand the arts center to accommodate more programming and to move to the center’s classes being held in rooms near the Jasper Municipal Pool.

“There are so many things we are looking forward to doing,” Miracle said. “The possibilities are just endless — films, film festivals, lots of smaller entertainment things that are too small for our main auditorium but too big for our backstage (setup). We are so excited to be a part of it.”

Having such a facility in Dubois County will contribute to the area’s quality of place, which is important, Cole noted.

“Many economic development experts say quality of place exerts a powerful influence over the jobs and careers we have access to,” he said. “The place we meet and choose to live and the ability to lead fulfilling lives are all effected by quality of place.”

Now that the $465,000 goal has been set, donors can contribute to the fundraising effort by submitting donations to the community foundation, 600 McCrillus St., Jasper, IN 47547. Multi-year pledge contributions will be accepted, but only immediate gifts are eligible for the Signature Grant matching funds portion. For more information, call the foundation at 812-482-5295.

“This is a crucial first step in what we hope will be a wonderful legacy for the community and also for the arts and culture in this area,” Hamby said. “We really have a desire to enhance the quality of life in this county in a rich and meaningful way. We embrace this first project, the Astra project, as a way to do that.”

Take a photographic tour of the historic theater here:

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