On a walk-through of the job site yesterday afternoon, architect Emily Poole commented, "It's all coming together; it's coming along nicely."


Instantly a huge smile appeared on the face of Delta Arts Alliance Executive Director Rori Eddie Herbison's face. When asked why such a satisfactory response to the report, Herbison offered, "So many people - people this organization is blessed to call patrons; people this community proudly calls neighbors, people that have volunteered countless hours of dedication and effort - so many people have waited for this exact moment. To be this shy of a finish line so many have worked for, waited for and helped make happen, that is intensely gratifying to this organization."


The historic Ellis Theater is in the first part of its final phase of renovation on the rear auditorium, with work expected to be complete late November, 2019.


The completed multi-purpose space will boast original fixtures from the one-time, functioning Ellis Movie Theater.


The Ellis Theater, located at 104 South Court Street in Cleveland, MS, opened to a packed house on Thursday, January 7, 1938, with two showings of “Vogues of 1938.”  According to The Bolivar Commercial January 8, 1938:  “The new theatre, which has an unusually large auditorium for a town of this size, is substantially and attractively built, and is beautifully lighted within and without.”   For over 40 years, the Ellis was a place of entertainment for Cleveland and the surrounding area. After 1970 the Twin Cinema on Highway 8 West opened and the Ellis was sold to Rhodes Printing Company. The new owner renovated the interior of the building and leveled the theater floor to make work space for a print shop, but made very few changes to the exterior of the building. 


 In 1999, a small group of visionaries in Bolivar and Sunflower Counties began meeting with the idea of creating opportunities for people of all ages, particularly young people, to experience art. These weekly meetings were an effort to imagine all of the possibilities for creativity. The meetings were spearheaded by Ruth Abide, an art teacher, and Nan Sanders, a local artist.  The group aptly named "the Willing Souls" also included Beverly Ray Card, Mary Jean Gates, Jordan Goins, Beth Jacks, Chester Kossman, Hilda Povall, Myrtis Tabb, Mickey Thompson, LenaGene Waldrup and Wilma Wilbanks. The group sought to live its mission, and created an environment that embraced diversity and included artists, musicians, schoolteachers, business owners and volunteers from varying social and economic backgrounds to develop and implement its program of service.


 The group embraced a two-fold mission, and one primary aspect was to begin a year-long, coordinated multidisciplinary art programming effort for children. Dr. Lenagene Waldrup developed curriculum and began working with 17 children in a pilot program in 2004.  The second thrust of the mission was to locate or build a facility to serve as a centerpiece for Arts Alliance activity. Various locations and properties were researched, and the City of Cleveland transferred the Ellis Theater Property to the organization in December 2003. The Arts Alliance received a MS Arts Commission Grant to begin the work on plans for the theater property which included the old service station on the corner.  With another grant from the Arts Commission and a Community Heritage Grant from the Department of Archives & History, Mickey Thompson, Hilda Povall, and Wilma Wilbanks headed the building committee to reformat and renovate the old theater and annex. Matching contributions came from the Cleveland Community Theater, the Junior Auxiliary of Cleveland, the Crosstie Arts Council and numerous private donations.


The renovation project was divided into phases, and the first was the most visible and ambitious--the front of the building, most particularly the marquee. Because the Ellis has been designated as a Mississippi Landmark the appropriate restoration of the marquee and building exterior was necessary. The old service station was also converted to a multi-purpose art annex providing space for art classes, dance, yoga and many other activities. A professional spring dance floor, and wall of mirrors were later installed in the facility and the car wash was converted to a storage area.

The art gallery (Phase I) was completed, and hosted its first official art exhibit during the 41st annual Crosstie Arts and Jazz Festival in April, 2010. The mid-portion of the building beneath the balcony (Phase II) includes office space for our partners, the Junior Auxiliary of Cleveland and the Crosstie Arts Council, and the storage areas, conference room, restrooms and a catering kitchen were completed in September, 2010. The stabilization of the rear wall and creation of a dirt-fill/geo-foam base for a concrete slab floor was completed in Fall 2012. Soon this phase of construction will be complete, and the transformation of this area into a multi-functional auditorium with open format seating, a theater stage, and a dressing room will be complete. Naming opportunities in the building exist for future donors: 




 Theater Auditorium 


Entire Building  




  Conference Room


   Back Stage


  Engraved Bronze Sidewalk Stars



Upstairs A


  Green Room


  Individual Balcony Chairs

    $500  each 

  Upstairs B


 Hall of Fame

(Corridor by Kitchen, Conference Room)


Engraved Sidewalk Bricks 

$75 or 2 for $100




The Juliet Kossman Whistlestop Stage


Downstairs Gallery

Ann and Jack Davis


Administrative Office

 In Memory of Mayor Martin King by Hilda & Kirkham Povall


Walk of Memories

Honoring Mickey Thompson 



Honoring Dr. Lenagene Waldrup



Nancy Chiz in memory of Louise and Raynold Chiz


Sculpture Garden

 Mike and Barnett Chiz in memory of Charlotte and Louis Kaplan


Upstairs Gallery

 Lucy and Paul Janoush


Upstairs Concessions Booth

Mike and Barnett Chiz in honor of Chester Neal Kossman


Projection Room

Hilda & Kirkham Povall


Lighting/Audio Center

Robinson Electric