By Allison Arnold photography by Elyse Wild
“I’ve always loved movies,” Sarah Vesely, director of Wealthy Theatre, said. “The first time I saw one, I think it was the Little Mermaid when I was about two, and I have just been fascinated [ever since].”
Vesely holds a bachelor’s degree in film and video production from Grand Valley State University and a Master of Fine Arts in screenwriting from Hollins University.
“There’s something really cool about film,” Vesely expressed. “It’s fun, tangible, magical, but it’s also a way for people to connect.”
Vesely’s knowledge and passion for film and her commitment to the community made her the perfect candidate to fill the role of director at Wealthy Theatre. The theatre is a program of the Grand Rapids Community Media Center (GRCMC), which also includes GRTV, WYCE, and The Rapidian. When the position opened up last year, Vessley had already worked at GRTV for nearly six years.
“When she came in for an interview, she really blew us away,” Linda Gellasch, executive director of GRCMC, commented. “She gets our mission. She gets the movement that we’re a part of.”
Gellasch describes Vesely’s presence as calm and steady.
“She’s really built such a welcoming atmosphere over at Wealthy Theatre,” Gellasch said. “I think that welcoming atmosphere shows in the amount of activity we’ve got over there now.”
Since stepping into the role of director, Vesely has increased community connections and business at the theatre.
“My goal is to keep boosting the signal of the accessibility of this,” Vesely said. “Whether it’s trying to boost the signal and encourage people to come in here and use this platform, I think that’s one achievement because our number of events is on the uptick.”
Wealthy Theatre hosts numerous film events, namely the Meanwhile Film Series, which, according to Vesely, has a great fall and holiday lineup. They also host film festivals, such as the Latin American Film Festival, as well as community events, such as resource meetings on sexual assault put on by the YWCA and forums held by the City of Grand Rapids.
The most challenging, yet exciting, aspect Vesely has taken on in her role is learning how to run a historic venue while also preserving it. Wealthy Theatre was constructed in 1911 as a vaudeville and live theatre, later becoming a warehouse for the Michigan Aircraft Company during World War I. It stood empty for more than 25 years before being restored and re-opened in 1998. The GRCMC acquired the theatre in 2005.
In addition to assembling diverse and engaging programming, Vesely is working on projects for the future of the theatre.
“I’ve been working with different people in the community to try to come up with new programming to bring in here,” Vesely said. “I’m hoping that we can kind of gear toward a more educational route. The Community Media Center overall has a really strong mission about being advocates for media literacy.”