In May, the Bradford County Regional Arts Council (BCRAC) joined friends and family of Henry Dunn and Brooks Eldredge-Martin in celebrating 25 years of BCRAC achievements, support and service by Dunn, and the work of Eldredge-Martin, BCRAC director emeritus.
Started in 1976 by Pat Zalinski, the Bradford County Regional Arts Council's main focus, at the time, was mainly on a summer arts camp for kids.
In 1987, when the historic Keystone Theatre was for sale, the BCRAC started efforts to keep the old theatre open and serving the community.
BCRAC Board President Henry Dunn and BCRAC Director Emeritus Brooks Eldredge-Martin stand in front of the historic Keystone Theatre. Both were instrumental in the theatre’s purchase and renovations over the past 25 years.
Through support from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts (PCA) and the Borough of Towanda, Eldredge-Martin was hired as BCRAC's first employee and executive director in 1988. Among those early volunteers was Henry Dunn and friends who agreed to serve on a fundraising committee. After several months of meetings and fundraising efforts, BCRAC purchased the Keystone Theatre in October 1988.
"The BCRAC has had an extraordinary team of volunteers, donors and community support over the past 25 years. It has been a very exciting part of my life," Eldredge-Martin expressed. "Henry opened my eyes about community organizing and fundraising. Our skills meshed well."
Recognizing the value of having the theatre renovated and operating, Dunn continued with the BCRAC as a Board member and leading the charge to make not only the Keystone Theatre, but also the Sayre and Rialto Theatres and the Arts Council as an organization, viable for years to come.
"The BCRAC team has done something very special here in Bradford County," said Dunn, current BCRAC board president. "Not only have we saved the three remaining historic theatres, but we started a business to oversee these theatres and bring arts experiences to our children and ourselves."
The BCRAC board of directors and Eldredge-Martin led the organization through its purchase of the Rialto Theatre in 1993, and the purchase of the Sayre Theatre in 1995.
Eldredge-Martin was key in developing relationships with the PCA, which resulted in BCRAC becoming a "partner" with the PCA for two of its regional re-granting programs.
Having served many years as Treasurer, and leading the BCRAC finance committee, Dunn was elected board president in 2012. The BCRAC was faced with one of its toughest financial decisions - raise close to $360,000 to convert all three theatres to digital projection or face their closure as the film industry began to eliminate 35 mm film.
Believing in the organization and the community's support, Dunn lead the organization into more than a year of fundraising to keep the theatres operating. This month, almost all of the needed funding will be raised and all three theatres converted to the new projection systems.
"This past year the community stepped up and helped bring the BCRAC theatres into their second centuries of operation. The new digital projection systems will bring more than just movies to our rural communities," said Dunn, referring to the new capabilities of offering live streaming. "The Arts Council and its theatres are a part of what makes this community special and attractive to businesses who are looking to offer their employees a good quality of life."
At the May event, BCRAC announced the naming of the historic theatre at the Keystone Theatre as the "Dunn Center for the Performing Arts" in honor of Dunn and his years of support and service.
"There have been many supporters over the Arts Council's history who have made this all possible," said Elaine Poost, BCRAC executive director.
"But it has been Henry, and Brooks, who have championed the Arts Council and its theatres for the past 25 years and have really taken us where we are today. As we move forward into the second century of operation for all three of our theatres, it is an honor to now have this grand space at the Keystone known as the Dunn Center for the Performing Arts."
Today, the Keystone Theatre remains northeast Pennsylvania's oldest operating theatre and is the home of live performances ranging from a Schooltime Youth Series, to a Nightlife on the Susquehanna Series, to special summer concerts presented year round. In addition to the movies and live shows, the lower level of the new addition of the Keystone is bustling with dance school rehearsals, dance and yoga classes, community meetings and special events.
The BCRAC, established in 1976, is a regional non-profit organization committed to the promotion and support of the arts and culture. For more information, visit BCRAC online at www.bcrac.org or www.facebook.com/BCRAC.