Liberty Update

The renovation of the historic Liberty Theatre in downtown La Grande — shown here in its earlier stages — is about 75% complete, its supporters said in October 2021.

LA GRANDE — Things are looking up at the Liberty Theatre in downtown La Grande.

The Liberty Theatre Foundation, the organization renovating the historic theater, recently announced it received a $250,000 grant from the MJ Murdock Charitable Trust in Vancouver, Washington. The most recent funds, along with $10,000 in grant money from the Wildhorse Foundation in late June, bring the project within reach of completion.

“We’re approximately three-quarters completed with the overall project and we were recently awarded $250,000 from the Murdock Charitable Trust, which really takes us over the final hump,” Vice Chair of the Liberty Theatre Foundation Jeff Clark said at the most recent La Grande Urban Renewal Agency meeting.

The project was originally put into place in 2009, when the nonprofit organization was created by La Grande locals. After years of renovations, the end is getting closer for the historic venue.

The MJ Murdock Charitable Trust grant will close the gap in needed funds to complete the project, according to Liberty Theatre Foundation Chair Ashely O’Toole in a press release.

“When an organization of their stature has such a high belief in our project and confidence in our abilities, it gives us all the more motivation and confidence that we can get it done — despite the challenges we’ve been facing during the pandemic,” O’Toole said.

The foundation’s grant from the Wildhorse Foundation went toward installing sound and light equipment. At the La Grande Urban Renewal Agency meeting on Oct. 6, the city agreed to extend the loan agreement with the Liberty Theatre Foundation following delays due to COVID-19.

The original hope was for the venue to be ready in some capacity before this year’s Eastern Oregon Film Festival, but supply shortages and spikes in prices during the pandemic have delayed that vision. According to O’Toole, the opening will likely be delayed until next year.

The 12th rendition of the film festival is set to start on Oct. 22, utilizing the McKenzie Theatre at Eastern Oregon University.

The Liberty Theatre will eventually serve as the home base for the film festival and open its doors for live performances from local orchestras, choirs, performing groups, and theater companies.

“We are committed to a long-standing partnership with the film festival in any capacity possible,” O’Toole said.

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