Stage set for new Gorham arts center

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GORHAM – For the first time in months, the doors were open this week at the former Odd Fellows Hall in Gorham when Gorham Arts Alliance members dusted and vacuumed the landmark.

The arts alliance is leasing the 200-year-old building set to open soon as its new Community Arts Center, at 34 School St., just off the village square. The new downtown venue is positioned center stage in Gorham Village to heighten the cultural scene.

“An overall hope is to create an arts district,” Amy Valentine, Gorham Arts Alliance president, said on Tuesday.

The Community Arts Center has already attracted a theater group from Westbrook. The Gorham Arts Alliance has plans for a full slate of arts-related classes including music, dance and theater programs in its arts center.

The Community Arts Center is a short distance from the University of Southern Maine’s art gallery and its music and theater programs. The arts alliance hopes to collaborate with university programs.

The arts center could house Gorham’s farmers market during winter months. Valentine said enthusiasm is building.

The organization also plans a gallery so students and other artists in the community could showcase their works. Valentine said there are numerous art students in Gorham.

“It’ll be a good outlet for them,” Valentine said.

Since its inception in 2011, the arts alliance has utilized space for its activities in Gorham’s Narragansett, Village and middle schools.

“We have a great relationship with the schools,” Valentine said. “(Superintendent) Ted Sharp has been welcoming.”

But now, the arts alliance has a place to call home.

Valentine credited Gorham Recreation Department Director Cindy Hazelton as helpful in launching the arts alliance.

“Without her support, we wouldn’t have been able to get here,” Valentine said in its new headquarters.

The arts alliance is booking a graduation party and plans summer camp activities beginning July 7 in the new Community Arts Center. Early childhood and after-school enrichment programs begin in August.

The arts alliance is leasing the space from Jon and Cindy Smith, who recently bought the building.

“Jon and Cindy are pro-Gorham,” DaraLyn McColl, arts alliance vice president and marketing director, said on Tuesday.

The arts alliance officers didn’t reveal lease terms or how much revenue the community center would need to generate.

“We live on optimism and faith,” Marina Lewis, arts alliance treasurer, said.

Valentine said the Smiths treated the arts alliance “extremely reasonable. They want to see this get off the ground.”

The Smiths, of Great Falls Construction in Gorham bought the building from Honor Holding, LLC (members Bruce Roullard and Duane Dreger), which purchased the building in November 2008 from the Independent Order of the Odd Fellows.

In recent years, Roullard and Dreger spruced up the mustard-colored Odd Fellows Building inside and out. Several upgrades included electrical service, insulation, and new windows. Hardwood floors and tin ceilings have been preserved and the exterior painted. The Odd Fellows sign still hangs on the building.

“We began the restoration/renovation project in early winter 2009,” Roullard, a town councilor, said. “The building dates back to 1807 and it was formerly the dry goods store for the town of Gorham. The Odd Fellows purchased the building around 1938.”

Under Roullard and Dreger, the building in recent years hosted NewYear Gorham shows and a special event last year celebrating the town’s agricultural roots.

The two-story building has a kitchen, rooms for classes, library and three functional bathrooms. Plans call for fencing an area outside for children’s classes.

Water was turned on last week at the building.

A theater with stage on the second floor was once a silent movie hall, according to Gorham Historical Society information. A vintage box office window has survived the years.

The 2,000-square-foot theater area has a piano and seats 101 under present occupancy. Relocating from Westbrook’s Dana Warp Mill, Acorn Productions has already begun storing sets and props in Gorham’s Community Arts Center.

The arts alliance leaders envision the area becoming recognized as an art district. The Community Arts Center is adjacent to the Gorham Historical Society headquarters and is well situated near village restaurants and shops.

Other nearby arts related venues include two dance schools – The Centre of Movement and the Dance Studio of Maine. The new arts center also is across School Street from Spire 29 on the Square, an event venue owned by the Smiths.

The Community Arts Center is drawing attention to Gorham. Organizers have heard from interested artists and parents in surrounding communities – Buxton, Hollis, Limington, Limerick, Westbrook and Windham. “It’s a great opportunity,” McColl said.

“It’s becoming a great pull,” Valentine said.

Gorham’s historic Odd Fellows Hall now houses the Community Arts Center. Gorham Arts Alliance is leasing the building from new owners Jon and Cindy Smith. The brick building is the Gorham Historical SocietyAmy Valentine, arts alliance president, right, and DaraLyn McColl, vice president, stand in the theater at the alliance’s new headquarters. 

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