Austin Town Hall drama instructor Dionne Hawkins has a long wish list of improvements she’d like to see for her West Side park district field house.
Topping her list is converting the auditorium’s former movie projector room into a state of the art sound booth. She also wants better theatrical lighting, like a dimmer board, to affect mood during stage productions.
“It’s an old building,” Hawkins said of the 80-year-old building on Lake Street near Central.
“It is not really a super theater space in terms of lighting or sound,” she added. “We have sound. We have lights, but it is not the way it should be. It could be nice if we could flip a switch in a sound booth and have sound all around the auditorium.”
Her wish list has a chance to be granted if Austin Town Hall is selected to receive $50,000 worth of renovation from Maxwell House Coffee’s Drops of Good program. Austin Town Hall, 5610 W. Lake, is the only Chicago Park District facility nominated for the program, sponsored by Kraft Foods and Rebuilding Together – the nonprofit organization works to preserve affordable homes and revitalize neighborhoods through rehabilitation.
Austin Town Hall is competing with 10 other organizations nationwide to receive the free makeover. Residents cast votes supporting their favorite organizations, with the top five vote getters selected to win $50,000 makeover. The remaining organizations will receive a $5,000 grant.
Tebrena Howard, Austin Town Hall’s supervisor, is excited about the possibility of the makeover and how it would enhance programming-the biggest of which is the drama program.
“Any time when we can enhance the facility for the kids and the people in the community, I think that is wonderful,” Howard said.
In this economy, the Chicago Park District welcomes such help, said Michael Scott Jr., the district’s area manager. Many of the district’s facilities are old and costly to repair, he said. And while $50,000 is not a lot, it will, according to Scott, make a dent with some repairs, such as the flood-damaged basement, as well as expanding seating for larger crowds.
“It is just a great opportunity to get kids off the street to do things like drama, music and dance,” Scott said.
Austin Town Hall has some stiff competition though. They include a recreation center in Georgia, a homeless center in California and a youth center in Florida among others. It is currently in tenth place with about 14,000 votes.
Hawkins is imploring residents to help. The funding, she explained, would help solidify Austin Town Hall as a cultural gem on the West Side, where few places exist to do cultural programming.
The hall-built in 1929 to resemble Philadelphia’s Independence Hall-offers poetry, the dramatic arts, music and visual arts programs. Hawkins said the facility “inspires creativity” and “inspires individuality” where people discover their unknown talents.
“A lot of people that have voted are people who have come here before and benefited from the programs. Those are the comments we are getting,” Hawkins said.
But votes, she added, should not just come from Austin, but throughout the city and state.
“The word needs to get out to people that maybe never been here before, but want to support the arts. We need to get the word out that this is important,” Hawkins said. “We are not asking for anybody’s money. We are just asking for a vote.”
It actually took a bit of luck to get the Hall nominated.
Kristin Horne, of Rebuilding Together Metro Chicago attended a jazz concert at the Hall. She believed the facility could benefit from the program and nominated it- her group has worked in the Austin community for three years, and Horne was impressed by the center’s arts focus.
“You see a lot of community centers that focus on athletics, but the Town Hall seems to be the largest provider of dance and drama,” she said. “I liked the idea that we can nurture a site that provides an essential service to the community.”