Ord, Nebraska, with its population of 2,000, sits between corn fields and ranches on the North Loup River, in the middle of the state.
Downtown, its historic art deco theater boasts high ceilings, multicolor arches, and inlaid wooden decorations in the lobby, walls tiled in red and navy, and hexagonal lights. The building on Ord’s central square served as a movie theater for decades, but in 2011, it underwent extensive renovations to become a live performance space.
And after the Valley Performing Arts Theater, a local non-profit, bought the building in July 2015, it got another decoration: A bouquet of corn husks, painted gold.
Director Dahn Hagge says someone suggested the idea in honor of the building’s new name: the Golden Husk.
“I was like, well, we have plenty of that,” Hagge says with a laugh.
When it was constructed, builders put corn husks in the walls for acoustic support.
“Throughout the past year we have had everything in here from a musical to an opera, to a dinner theater, to a talent show, and just so many different things,” Hagge says. “You can see the beautiful wood floor down in the center, that's our dance floor.”
Between the main floor and balcony, the theater can hold around 260 people — locals as well as people from surrounding towns. One recent night, it hosted four rock and soul bands from Omaha as part of a concert series touring the state.
“We love the idea that we are able to provide that,” Hagge says, “to connect with people, and have people come to Ord Nebraska and Valley County and experience our quality of life and bring their artistic talents to us so we can experience that right here in our home instead of having to travel to a city.”
Hagge says her group has been inspired by community conversations around what they could add to quality of life in their area.
“We've just heard that people really have a desire for this space to be that arts and cultural hub, and also a gathering space for community,” she says.
“It's also a really important place for us to showcase our own assets and attributes out here,” adds Caleb Pollard, Ord’s former economic development director. “There's a tremendous number of really talented people in the Sandhills.”
Three years ago, Pollard founded Scratchtown Brewery, which led local fundraising efforts to bring the concert series to Ord. Pollard, who’s passionate about arts and culture, says support from private businesses like his is critical to the success of nonprofit entities like the Golden Husk.
“We chose to live out here, to start a business out here, to raise our family out here. And we're also choosing to make this a community that we want to live in. Unless we put our time and our talent and our money forward to do that, it won’t happen,” he says.
Local donors helped get the Golden Husk started, and soon the group will invite community members to buy in with memberships. Local businesses are sponsoring an upcoming monthly movie series, says Golden Husk Treasurer Jennifer Plate, who moved to Valley County in 2013 and says fostering youth performances and workshops is a key part of the Golden Husk's mission.
“We want to give kids that aren’t the athlete stereotype somewhere to succeed in town. And it's very important to keep those kids active, involved and loving their community so that they want to come back and raise their families here,” Plate says.
There’s also another reason the organization embraced the name Golden Husk, Hagge says.
“If you look up the definition of a husk, it is a protective covering of something that's growing and beautiful and alive," she says. "And that's how we view this building is that it's for all people to come and share their talents, their passions, and connect with each other.”
This story is part of Artland, a regional public radio collaboration reporting on stories of creativity building community in unexpected places.