The Dixie keeps arts alive, prospers

Since opening in 1928, the theater on Vienna Street in Ruston has been a home  to the arts, filling the gap between larger centers in Monroe and Shreveport.

The Dixie theater, renovated in 1996, and the organizations housed in it continue the legacy  by producing musicals, concerts and art exhibits.

Their mission is to be the home and heart of the arts in North Central Louisiana.

“Dixie is the treasure of our community,” said Ruston Mayor Dan Hollingsworth. “Hundreds of thousands of visitors come to the Dixie Center of the Arts every year.”

The Dixie Center for the Arts, a nonprofit organization that runs the Dixie Theater, draws its revenue from benefactors, season tickets sales and individual shows and serves as the umbrella for it’s priority partners, including the Ruston Community Theatre, the Ruston Civic Symphony Society and the North Central Louisiana Arts Council.

“This place serves as the hub for cultural activities in the area,” said Elizabeth English, Dixie Center vice president.

The board of directors, led by Dixie’s president, John Emory Jr., consists of 17 members who meet monthly to discuss financial decisions, donors, sponsors and future events. The president of each priority partner has representatives who attend monthly.

“We have members that have foresight and roll up their sleeves to organize good events for the community,” English said.

She said when the board of directors decides on events, focusing on children is their priority because family-oriented events are what the Dixie’s philosophy is all about.

One of the priority partners is the North Central Louisiana Arts Council. It serves Lincoln, Bienville, Claiborne, Jackson and Union parishes as a clearinghouse for state grants and helps other arts organizations in administrative matters.

“Monroe has their own big deal, Shreveport has their big deal and everybody in between is sort of left out, said Laura Hunt Miller, executive assistant for the Arts Council. 

“We try to make a big focus of our organization not to just reach out to Ruston, but to the small communities that don’t have art in their schools,” The Ruston Civic Symphony Society and the Ruston Community Theatre have been important contributors.


Tough going

Originally named The Astor Theatre, Dixie was constructed in 1928 and was North Central Louisiana’s first performing arts theater. However, the two-story structure had its share of difficulties. It was sold five times and survived a devastating fire in 1933, not to mention the Great Depression. 

The Dixie was entered into the National Register of Historic Places in October 1993.

In 1996, after decades of stagnation, the Center’s remaining members began a comprehensive renovation project to enhance audience and artist experiences while bringing back the beauty and charm of Ruston’s landmark theater.

“It showed the heart and perseverance of the those who remained to keep this gem open,” English said.

Hollingsworth said the Dixie is important to downtown because it keeps the community and local business involved.

“Art is big in this town, and they’re good for my business because art is what I love to do,” said Lead Terry, owner of The Frame Up downtown. Terry and his family have been attending events at the Dixie since 1977.


A fond look back

In the lobby of the Dixie Center, an art gallery features works from local area artists, complemented by white Art Deco architectural designs.

“Walking in the theater today takes you back into the ’50s,” Ruston resident Bonnie Fergurson said.

Aside from the “old modern” landscape, the Dixie’s most notable feature is a sleek chandelier.

“It’s so beautiful. I heard people talk  about when they used to sit in the balcony and throw things in the chandelier,” laughed Nancy Wallace, who serves on the board of directors.

Marie Riggs, a Ruston native, said she doesn’t remember throwing things in the chandelier, but she remembers her first date with the man who’s now her husband.

“I didn’t know I was going to marry my husband then, but that great moment we had that night obviously left a lasting impression on us,” Riggs said.

Dixie has seen many changes, but the people who keep the Dixie going have never changed.

“There is a lot of good memories that have been generated here in this old building,” said English. “And we hope to continue generating some more good memories as time passes.”