Little Art Theatre Tackles Big Changes

After a five-month renovation period, the Little Art Theatre in Yellow Springs has reopened to the public. With a new screen, new projector, new seats and new sight lines, this small-town theatre has been completely upgraded.

Jenny Cowperthwaite, executive director of the Little Art Theatre, said she had no choice but to renovate. The theatre had operated on two 35 mm film projectors for the past 60 to 70 years, but the film industry has stopped making movies on 35 mm film.

“We were going to be out of business if we did not transition to digital,” Cowperthwaite said.

On top of that, the 36-year-old chairs were falling apart. Cowperthwaite said people complained about them, and at one point she was using duct tape to keep the chairs together.

And there was no incline in the theatre to help the audience see the screen. The bathrooms and lobby were too small. It was time for a change.

Because it became a nonprofit theatre in 2009, the Little Art Theatre had to raise the money to fund renovations.

First, Cowperthwaite and her board received a $30,000 grant from the Yellow Springs Community Foundation. According to Cowperthwaite, this was the largest grant the foundation had ever given and was such a vote of confidence.

Next, the Morgan Family Foundation granted the theatre $250,000.

After this grant, Cowperthwaite and her board knew it would be possible to raise enough money to renovate the Little Art Theatre.

The rest of the money came from the board and members of the Yellow Springs community who have supported the theatre through the years. In the end, the money raised for the theatre exceeded their goal of $475,000.

“I don’t think we could have done it in another community,” Cowperthwaite said.

The community’s involvement in the theatre renovations can be seen on plaques throughout the theatre. Names of donors are on the back of every chair, below the famous house lights, even in and around the concession stand.

The biggest dedication to the community is displayed on an old film reel in the lobby, what Cowperthwaite calls the “donor wall.” Those who donated the most money have their names printed on a film strip coming off the reel, with a special thanks to the Morgan Family Foundation and the Yellow Springs Community Foundation.

Cowperthwaite said one of the biggest concerns of the Yellow Springs community was that the house lights stay the same.

The house lights were painted by an Antioch student in 1947, Cowperthwaite said. During fundraising, many people from the community requested that the house lights stay.

“They have become the signature icon for the Little Art,” Cowperthwaite said.


From the inside out, the Little Art Theatre has been updated. The only things that remained the same were the popcorn machine, the marquee and the house lights. | Photo From: Alex Grodkiewicz

The entire theatre was gutted and taken down to bare walls, Cowperthwaite said. In fact, the popcorn machine, the marquee and the house lights were the only things that stayed the same.

New concrete was poured to help create better sight lines for the audience. Cowperthwaite said 56 seats were given up in the theatre to expand the lobby and allow for bigger, handicapped-accessible bathrooms. With this additional space, there was room to create what Cowperthwaite calls the “Mojo Lounge” for people to relax in before and after the movie.

A new screen and digital sound system were big upgrades for the Little Art Theatre, but the biggest upgrade was the new projector, which will now project a number of independent and mainstream films digitally. This new projector has made preparations for each movie easier.

“It was overwhelming at first,” Cowperthwaite said, who has been working with the 35 mm projectors since she was young.

However, after much practice, she said she found the digital projector is actually quicker and more efficient.

Another upgrade for the Little Art Theatre are new seats. Cowperthwaite and her team were able to find bigger seats with cup holders and movable arms.

Cowperthwaite said one of her favorite features of the theatre is the sound fold that now lines the walls of the theatre. This warm red acoustic fabric helps improve the sound during a movie.

“Everything about this facility is just fantastic,” Cowperthwaite said about the final product, calling it the most exciting venue in Yellow Springs.

“It is not only about watching a movie,” she said. “It is about immersing yourself in the experience that the movie intends for you to go on.”

Emily Paul is a junior journalism major and a reporter for Cedars. She plays on the women’s tennis team and dreams of becoming a sports broadcaster.

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