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02-Dec-2015
Community support helps dreams come true

In my town of Hastings, dreams are valued, and dreamers are a treasure. I am the founder and director of the nonprofit organization The Listening Room. This organization began 24 years ago with a vision to create a concert series that would support local musicians and foster creative exchange between beginning songwriters and nationally touring professional songwriters. We produced 12 concerts a year on an annual operating budget of $25,000.

It was a series run by volunteers, but what we created was soon recognized as an asset in our small Nebraska town. We received good regional publicity and attracted music lovers from across the state and beyond to spend an evening in downtown Hastings in our rented concert venue. We even inspired others in central and western Nebraska to create similar venues in their town.  But most importantly, we made a difference in the quality of life in Hastings and our hard work did not go unnoticed.

We were celebrating our 19th anniversary when we got the news that the building we had been renting for 17 years was being shut down. We had no sooner heard this news when several “heroes” stepped forward to offer a solution to our problem. The Community Redevelopment Authority had purchased the building at 809 West Second Street when Sitel Telemarketing vacated it. The CRA did this hoping to find a suitable developer for the historic landmark. Community Redevelopment Authority director, Randy Chick, was a long-time supporter of The Listening Room, but it took an act of true faith for him to invite me and my board of directors to put together a proposal to turn this 7,800-square foot neglected building into a pristine performing arts space called The Lark.

We needed financial advisors, architectural designers, a business plan, community planning advisors and grant writers. To make it more interesting, we had one year to put it all on the table. It took true vision from the team to see what this space could become. We found many resources in our community, including Hastings Economic Development Corporation, Hastings Community Foundation, Cicada Dwellings, Small Business Institute, Adams County Convention and Visitors Bureau and South Central Economic Development District were the resources we found in our community.

Planning and designing the space was daunting, but actually really fun with the right team in place. Bringing this team together was easy. There were already many people in the community that valued the organization and what we offered the community. Our fans came together for demolition days and fundraising opportunities. Staying in communication with everyone involved and being very organized was essential to make this work.

The price tag on the building renovation, $1.5 million, would have stopped us in our tracks, but with the community behind us we were empowered. Our nonprofit built a sustainable business model. With a renovation to turn this commercial space into a space that had superior acoustics and a very aesthetic vibe took a lot of people and talent. We sourced an old bar from a small Nebraska town that had been removed from it’s original home and this was restored by a local artisan. During the renovation, we uncovered mezzanine balconies that were original to the building and with the right structural expertise, we were able to keep them which also adds to the charm of the space. With the large space we acquired in vibrant downtown Hastings, we were able to bring other programs and events to the community. We offer space on a rental basis for other private events. This was certainly a need in our community as our main convention center had closed.

Our mission is to celebrate art, music and life.  Now, we produce concerts, including our beloved Listening Room Concert Series, and other arts events and our non-mission related events help support the arts programming.

Every community needs dreamers. That’s where the good stuff starts. I had a dream when I started the Listening Room Concert Series in 1991. Watching it inspire local musicians and entertain listeners was my dream come true. But as time went on, I realized that I wanted the series to continue long after I was gone. Building a permanent home for the concert series was the first step. Building the nonprofit model that would sustain it was the second. Ours is still a work in progress, but with the help of our community, the finished dream is just over the horizon. For more information visit thelarkdowntown.com.



About the Author

Robin Harrell
Founder/Executive Director the Lark & The Listening Room

Robin is the executive director of The Lark in Hastings, Nebraska. She foudned the Listening Room Concert Series which hosts concerts at The Lark year-round. As a musician and artists, she has been involved in the art scene in Hastings and Nebraska for 30 years.

 


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