Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Fall 1998


Published in Great Plains Research 8 (Fall 1998):299-313. Copyright © 1998 The Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska – Lincoln. Used by permission.


The population of rural towns in the Great Plains is generally declining. Between 1980 and 1990, over two-thirds of the 105 counties in Kansas lost population. The towns have been struggling with economic and demographic changes. In a number of Kansas towns, residents organized to save or refurbish their theaters. In this study I gathered information on the outcome of these activities from municipalities in Kansas in which a movie theater is owned by the town, the Chamber of Commerce, or a community group. Economic impact, fund raising activities, and volunteerism connected with the theater were explored. The results show that the theaters contributed to community pride, while suggesting neutral to positive economic impact. The various strategies used to acquire, renovate, and maintain the theaters provide ideas for rural community development elsewhere.