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Community Reviving Movie Theater

A community arts group is bringing Walhalla's old theater back to life.

[Go to http://www.ag.ndsu.nodak.edu/media/ag/video_news/walla.ram for a VIDEO version of this news release. To view the video, you will need RealPlayer. Go to http://www.real.com/ to download the software if needed.]

If folks in Walhalla want to see a movie at a theater, they have to drive 30 miles to a neighboring town.

The community's only theater has been closed since the early 1980s.

A group of Walhalla residents is hoping to revive the theater, and create a little tourism and economic development in the process.

That group, the Gorge Arts and Heritage Council, formed as the result of a daylong workshop the North Dakota State University Extension Service's Center for Community Vitality sponsored in Walhalla last spring.

The workshop, ""Building Community Vitality Through Arts and Heritage,"" was designed to help rural communities energize themselves by creating an environment for artists and cultural activity. NDSU Extension also held the workshop in Ellendale and Carrington.

Gorge Arts and Heritage Council member Leona Schneider says the plan is to turn the Walla Theater into a place where residents can go not only to see movies, but to hold community gatherings, school events, concerts and plays. Helen Volk-Schill, Extension's community economic development agent for Pembina County, says that's good news for Walhalla students because the high school doesn't have a stage for school plays.

The theater practically fell in the council's lap, according to Volk-Schill. Residents already had one public meeting to come up with ideas on how to strengthen the community's cultural arts. During the second meeting, Walla owners Ardell Bjornstad and Edward Karel announced they would donate the theater.

The Walla looks much like it did the day it closed. The projectors are ready for the next movie. The popcorn machines are in place. The lights marking the aisles still work.

But the theater needs some work. The roof leaks, the plumbing and electrical wiring must be brought up to state code and the interior needs a new coat of paint. The stage and screen also need some repairs.

The council is working with NDSU History Department professor Tom Isern to calculate the cost of restoring the theater and how to raise the money. Isern told the council that based on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the worst shape and 10 the best, the theater is about a 7.

""People are excited about this project,"" Volk-Schill says.

Residents of all ages have expressed interest in working with the council to bring the theater back to life.

""We even have some high school juniors and seniors,"" Volk-Schill says.

In addition to tackling the theater renovation project, the council has started an art gallery to showcase local artists. It also initiated a book discussion group. The group's first book will be ""Dakota: A Spiritual Geography"" by Kathleen Norris.

Schneider is anxious to see the theater revitalized for a couple of reasons: It will provide a place for residents to get involved in a variety of activities, and it will be one more reason for tourists to make Walhalla a destination, rather than just a place to drive through on the way to somewhere else.

""We have a lot here to offer,"" she says.

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Helen Volk-Schill, (701) 265-8411, hschill@ndsuext.nodak.edu
Editor:Ellen Crawford, (701) 231-5391, ellen.crawford@ndsu.edu
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