PEABODY—The Sunflower Theater has been undergoing renovations to help preserve the structural integrity of the building, as well as make it a functional performing arts space once again.
Susan Mayo, chairman of the Board of the Sunflower Theater Inc., announced the organization earned a $10,000 Reimagined Spaces Grant from the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission to install a temporary floor in the theater to host a dance event.
Peabody Community Foundation Director Becky Nickel said, at the moment, the community foundation is a temporary funding mechanism for the theater, which is in the process of finalizing its 501c3 non-profit status.
“This is the year of the sunflower. So they’re going to max out on promoting and engaging all the things that sunflowers are,” she said of the theater.
The first event, to be held on May 22, will be a collaboration between the Sunflower Theater and Peabody High School. The event will focus on a temporary new floor installed in the building and feature a May Pole dance. A larger celebration is planned for September.
The restoration of the theater has been an ongoing effort, from structural fixes to interior cleanups, Mayo said the community has already put work into bringing the theater back to life.
When it came to the Reimagined Spaces Grant, Mayo immediately recognized the potential for the Sunflower Theater.
“It’s a grant to temporarily put art in unused or underutilized space, and that’s exactly what we are doing,” she said.
An art exhibition that was scheduled in March—shut down by the first wave of the pandemic—featured 40 local artists. The exhibition was finally able to take place months later in July but only with limited attendance and social distancing.
One of the major challenges with the Sunflower is the issues created when the space was repurposed as a bowling alley decades ago. Alley gutters line the floor and prevent the whole space from being utilized.
“We can temporarily close those gutters off, putting in plywood and epoxy on the concrete. That whole area, it’s not a professional floor, but we have the whole space to put an audience there,” Mayo said.
The project, which will last through the better part of the year, will not only see the installation of a new floor but also be part of an artistic content creation project centered around the history of the theater and memories of Peabody residents. Residents will be interviewed for their memories of the theater, childhood home and community.
Mayo added some of the interviews for the project are particularly meaningful because “two of the oldest have passed away. It’s really important to collect those memories while we can.”
Choreographer Cheyla Clawson, an assistant professor of dance at Wichita State University, will review the interviews and utilize qualitative software to discover themes that reveal patterns of similarity, disparity and change among participants. Themes discovered by Clawson will be utilized to create movement derived from these histories.
Mayo, a professional musician who composes original scores, “has funding for six professional musicians, the Peabody High School Choir, and elementary school bucket band.”
Mayo said seeing funding and work poured into revitalizing the theater is an important project for the community as a whole.
“Getting the arts out into rural areas, we’re underserved in opportunity, space and education. This is a way for us to have that happen. There’s so much community enthusiasm for this project,” she said.
In addition to the Reimagined Spaces Grant, Mayo said the Sunflower Theater is also in the running for a $50,000 historical restoration grant to pay for further structural repairs to the building.
Mayo said she imagines a performing arts space with “a stage, a floor that has seats that can be removed, a commercial kitchen, new bathrooms,” the former upstairs doctor’s office and balcony, she said, have the potential to “turn into a bed and breakfast and could be used for artists in residence.”
The front of the building that once housed a ticket counter and lobby, Mayo said has the potential to house shops or classrooms.
“We’re still excited. COVID has slowed us down a bit, but I’m confident it will be a place for Peabody and the county to have an arts space,” she said.