For years, the theater in the Lexington Public Library downtown has been a venue for plays, films, talks, music and candidate debates.
This month, the renamed Will Stamps Farish Fund Theater at Central Library is reintroducing itself with numerous upgrades, from the dressing rooms backstage to the technology in the control room. The $537,288 renovation to the theater and its lobby, including a $100,000 endowment for maintenance of the 12-year-old Foucault Pendulum and Ceiling Clock, was funded primarily with grants from the W. Paul and Lucille Caudill Little Foundation Inc. and the William Stamps Farish Fund, and several other donors.
"In the 12 years I've been here, this is the biggest donation to the library that I have heard of," said media relations coordinator Doug Tattershall. "This was a huge undertaking to do this not with public funds but with private donations."
Folks will have ample opportunity to check out the facilities thanks to an April calendar full of presentations, from concerts to theater to film screenings and discussions. The list of performers includes local favorites such as self- proclaimed "honky-tonk soul" artists Coralee and the Townies and comedian Etta May, movies such as Coal Miner's Daughter and several foreign films, and groups such as Accents Publishing.
Library director Ann Hammond says the renovation was done purposefully, with extensive consultations with the arts community about what their needs would be in a new performance venue.
"They wanted the equipment to be more comprehensive, more up-to-date," Hammond says. "They had, basically, VHS technology. So now we've got Blu-ray, we've got all kinds of ability to project and to record."
Jim Chandler, director of support services, points out that all the systems may be operated from iPads, so a technical director could sit in the theater and make adjustments rather than hoping what he or she is seeing or hearing in the booth is the same as what the audience is experiencing.
Hammond said groups also wanted the theater's heating and air- conditioning systems addressed, both in terms of climate control and noise, and they wanted better backstage accommodations and more stage access from backstage. All of those things have been dealt with, Hammond says.
For the audience, seats have been staggered to allow better stage views, and there are cup holders. Food and drink will be allowed in the theater because a rubberized compound has replaced carpeting on the floor.
"We're going to be a little friendlier to people who come in and use the theater," Hammond says.
And in the changing world of libraries, an asset like a theater is very important, she says.
"A library's greatest place in society is to be that leveling force, that place where you can come and you know you're going to be welcome and you don't have to pay an entry fee, and you get help with your information needs, you can attend a program, you can take class, you can come hang out and have a sense of community," she says. "That's what we're hoping to create here. We want to be a welcoming space for the entire community, and with the theater, with the art gallery, with all the other provisions that the library offers, I think we're doing that."