Historically, Helena has been a regional center for performance and access to the performing arts. In the frontier days in the 1860’s and 1870’s traveling troupes and western theater companies passed through Helena or took up part-time residency during the winter months. Helena and Butte became convenient railroad stops for the best of vaudeville entertainment traveling between Chicago and Seattle from the 1880’s to 1920’s. Through the early 1960’s several grand old vaudeville/movie houses hosted the best of national touring companies. In the early 1970’s, Helena had a need for an organization that could be a link to the past and provide new performance and art experiences to an eager audience.
The Myrna Loy Center began as the Helena Film Society in 1976 to provide alternative cinema to a small city far from major urban centers. Located on the second floor of a historic office building in downtown Helena, Second Story Cinema soon became home to various community arts projects, including theatre, poetry, satirical revues, multimedia, and musical events.
The Series for the Performing Arts began in 1979, presenting traditional and innovative works by culturally diverse artists of national stature. Bringing performing artists from faraway places not only brought a unique entertainment resource to Helena; it also nurtured local and regional artists and created opportunities for arts and humanities education in the community.
With a 1985 National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Advancement grant, the Center completed a major capital campaign that resulted in the opening of the Myrna Loy Center, located in the historic Lewis and Clark County Jail in downtown Helena, Montana. The Myrna Loy Center officially opened in 1991.
The Center showcases its productions in a variety of venues. Smaller, more intimate productions—theater, dance, jazz, folk, performance art and cinema—are presented in the 250-seat proscenium arch theater and the 50-seat screening room of the Myrna Loy Center. There is also a small art gallery located adjacent to the box office.
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