Thirty years ago Mary Hepburn saw the need for a town arts center in Saxtons River. And her vision was comprehensive. The arts building would include performance and gallery space, and it would offer education for all levels of arts enthusiasts, from Crayolas to musical theater. Today Main Street Arts – or MSA - owns two buildings.
In year round collaboration with Bellows Falls Opera House and Vermont Academy, the arts center utilizes three local performance spaces, ranging from 100 to 500 seats. And recent renovations to fix a broken sprinkler will increase education space and make it possible to add a professional kitchen and an open studio. That kind of growth can be challenging and MSA is still figuring out how to balance remaining a community based arts organization with the ambition to reach beyond town limits to put on professional level productions.
Managing Director Heather Geoffrey attributes the organization’s longevity to its responsiveness to the community – and to the staff’s constant research of ideas through networking, collaboration with other groups and audience surveys. Charles Henry's Final Curtain was written by Saxtons River resident and MSA board member Cass Morgan about a Vermont Native whose painted curtains are found all over the state. And the idea for this Friday evening’s A Night of True Stories came from board member Annesa Hartman, who was inspired in part by the popular Moth storytelling series.
Hartman says, “We all have stories in us, and this is an opportunity for people to share stories, and practice them, even if they’re initially uncomfortable with the idea of performance.”
The impact a vibrant arts center can have on people’s lives is profound. Thirty years in, there are people who have grown up with MSA. At last summer’s volunteer party, there was a young woman who had participated in MSA’s very first production, Charlotte’s Web. Sharing the arts with the community “is the glue that holds us here,” Hartman says.
Seems no one’s surprised these days when the first item cut from a school or town budget is money for the arts. But that’s too bad, because MSA is proof that when the arts are made a priority, amazing things can happen.