State Theatre Reopens as Hub for Nonprofits, Job Training – and Film Screenings, Too

Tom Giffey

No one has ever accused Joe Luginbill of thinking too small. The 25-year-old Eau Claire native was elected to the school board at age 20, and has been a YouTube chef, a nonprofit founder, a child welfare caseworker, and a member of countless committees, commissions, and campaigns, both locally and nationally.

Now, Luginbill is spearheading the re-opening of downtown Eau Claire’s historic State Theatre as a multifaceted facility that will provide office space for nonprofit groups, classrooms for workforce development programs, and a theater for film screenings – not to mention other soon-to-be-announced plans that will help draw the public into what until last year was the home of the Eau Claire Regional Arts Center.

“A building this beautiful with this much potential shouldn’t be sitting dormant,” said Luginbill, whose nonprofit group, the Luginbill Children’s Foundation, will operate the State, which opened in 1926 for vaudeville shows before becoming a movie theater and arts center.

“One of the reasons I’m really excited we’re doing it is there’s a really good synergy between what we’re doing and what Pablo is doing.” – Joe Luginbill

A ribbon-cutting and the re-lighting of the theater marquee is planned for 5pm on Friday, Oct. 11, at what is now dubbed the State Theatre and Community Center, 316 Eau Claire St. The ceremony will be followed by a celebration in the theater lobby, which will include refreshments, pop-up shops, music and art, and resource tables from local nonprofits, some of whom will soon make their homes at the State. At 7pm, the theater itself will host a screening of the documentary For They Know Not What They Do, which is part of the UW-Eau Claire’s LGBT-themed freaQweek.

The State Theatre ended its run as downtown Eau Claire’s biggest cultural arts venue when the Pablo Center at the Confluence opened just a few blocks away last fall. In February, the building was purchased by Mohammad Hashlamoun of Elk Mound, who owns several businesses in the Chippewa Valley, including the Azara Vape Bar, 624 Water St.; My Office Lounge, 408 Galloway St.; and Momentum Auto Dealership, 3624 Mall Drive. While Hashlamoun owns the building, the Luginbill Children’s Foundation will oversee activities there.

The building sat quietly for most of the year until becoming a hub of activity over the past few weeks thanks to a program overseen by Workforce Resource Inc., a nonprofit that provides job training. The program, funded by a Wisconsin Fast Forward Grant from the state of Wisconsin, involved 17 to 20 participants learning construction skills. The participants worked on a variety of projects inside and outside the building, including remodeling, repairing, and painting, Luginbill said. He hopes this is the first of many workforce development programs to be held in the part of the State Theatre that previously housed the Janet Carson Gallery.

“One of the reasons I’m really excited we’re doing it is there’s a really good synergy between what we’re doing and what Pablo is doing,” Luginbill said, noting that the Pablo Center also offers workforce development programming, specifically aimed at young people.

Meanwhile, the Farwell Street-facing portion of the building, which previously housed offices for ECRAC and other arts entities, will now be used by community nonprofits. The groups will be able to rent their own offices as well as used shared space for meetings, educational sessions, fundraisers, and other gatherings. “There is a hunger and a desire for more opportunities to network and collaborate with other nonprofits,” Luginbill said.

As for the 1,100-seat-theater itself, Luginbill said it will be used to screen movies, including film marathons and festivals. “There are so many different kinds of venues downtown, and we have our own style and flair which will work well for certain events,” he said. “I think we will fit very nicely within the fabric of all the groups that are downtown.”

Like many Eau Claire residents, Luginbill feels great nostalgia for the State Theatre – as both an audience member and a performer – but he is looking forward to helping write a new chapter in the building’s history.

“There’s a lot of work to be done here still,” he said. “One of the motivations of bringing people back in is to see the potential … and inspiring people to get involved and volunteer.”

Learn more about the State Theatre and Community Center at www.facebook.com/TheStateEauClaire

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