Orem cultural arts center SCERA celebrates its 90th birthday

SCERA celebrates two milestones this year, the 90th anniversary of opening the community center and 40th anniversary of Shell Amphitheater.

By bonneville on May 28, 2024
archival photo of 4 people looking at a movie projector
Photo courtesy of SCERA

About SCERA 

The SCERA Center for the Arts in Orem is a staple in the Utah County arts community. For over 90 years, it has provided family-friendly entertainment to millions of residents and visitors, with a mission to be a gathering place for people to have fun, make friends, and be uplifted. 

This year, the center is celebrating another milestone: the 40th anniversary of the outdoor theater SHELL, which opened in 1984. The Shell Theater was one of the first significant amphitheaters built in Utah and has hosted numerous notable acts, including LeAnn Rimes, Josh Turner, and The Everly Brothers. 

Keep reading to learn more about the theater’s history and community mission to provide a cultural arts space. 

photo of SCERA theater in Orem with mountains in background
Photo courtesy of SCERA

A brief history of the theater

When SCERA opened in 1933, around 3,000 people lived in Orem. Many were hit hard by the Great Depression, losing their homes or land for farming. Spirits were grim as people dealt with the loss. 

In response, a group of local church leaders from the Sharon Stake pooled their resources to create a community gathering place. Their main focus, which remains the center’s focus today, was to provide family-friendly entertainment at affordable rates. Thus, SCERA (Sharon Cultural Education Recreation Association) was born.

Over the next few years, the location was primarily used as a recreational center with a swimming pool, baseball games, and other programs. In 1941, community leaders decided to build a theater, and John Wayne’s “Shepherd of the Hills” was the first movie to air in the Showhouse I room.

The original auditorium, Showhouse I, can seat up to 756 people. In 1995, an additional Showhouse was added to show movies and stage plays. Until the mid-90s, the theater held exclusive rights to show Disney movies. The lobby has a porcelain Mickey Mouse donated by the company, recognizing SCERA’s partnership over the decades. 

In 2006, the entire lobby and concessions area were renovated, with an outdoor courtyard and updated accouterments. The lobby also features stained glass art by artist Tom Holdman, depicting the eight arts areas (theater, dance, literature, architecture, song, music, art, and film). 

The outdoor addition of the Shell Theatre in 1984

a crowd of concertgoers enjoy live music on the grass
Photo courtesy of SCERA

To take advantage of Utah’s warm summers, SCERA added the Shell Outdoor Theatre to showcase plays, concerts, outdoor movies, and other live events. The Osmond Brothers were the first band to play at the theater upon its opening, the first of its kind in Utah. 

The amphitheater can host over 5,000 guests, where patrons enjoy hillside seating with blankets or chairs and enjoy concessions from the box office. Over 60,000 people enjoy the evening entertainment under the stars each season. 

A community-led effort

SCERA operates largely from volunteers who offer their service in exchange for keeping the center a thriving hub of the arts. Each year, nearly 1,000 volunteers provide over 172,000 hours of service, whether in performances or stage productions or by sharing their skills and teaching others. 

In addition to entertainment, SCERA also hosts several educational programs. Over 18,000 people a year attend cultural programs such as stained glass and pottery classes, acting, and other educational workshops. 

SCERA is dedicated to serving the community by remaining affordable for families. By supplementing its funding with grants, donations, and other fundraising efforts, SCERA keeps prices low so people of all ages can enjoy the center’s offerings. There are even cry rooms where parents can take their children and still enjoy the movie or play, so no one misses out or feels disturbed. 

This summer’s programming

To celebrate its anniversary, the Shell Outdoor Theatre will screen a series of films from the ’80s, such as Labyrinth, ET, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, to commemorate that time period. There will also be a fireworks show after music performances. 

The theater runs many other programs all year round, including art exhibits, feature films, classic cinema series, and children’s summer series. You can also rent the theater for fairs, festivals, classes, performances, and other events. Check them out this summer for a memorable night with the whole family!

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