Colby College and Waterville Creates! have announced plans to transform a historical downtown building into a new center for contemporary art and film, making Waterville a singular destination for the arts in Maine. The project, which includes a significant fundraising effort, features new and renovated space at 93 Main Street to support leading programs in visual arts, theater, film, and arts education.
The preliminary design, created by an architectural team of Susan T. Rodriguez of New York City and GO Logic of Belfast, Maine, includes a contemporary gallery of the Colby College Museum of Art on the ground level; three screening rooms to bring the Maine Film Center, Railroad Square Cinema, and the Maine International Film Festival to the heart of downtown; Common Street Arts gallery; and multidisciplinary educational spaces. The concept for the 32,000-square-foot building carefully preserves the building’s historical façade while creating a Main Street presence for the Waterville Opera House.
“From the earliest days of our downtown planning efforts, we identified the arts as a foundational strength in Waterville,” said President David A. Greene. “With the creation of this facility we will introduce a central destination to attract visitors to the city from across Maine and beyond, add to the local economy, and make Waterville a more vibrant place to live and work.”
Shannon Haines, president and CEO of Waterville Creates!, calls the moment “transformative.” “Waterville has long had amazing programs in the arts,” she said. “We are building on institutions that people have supported and cared about for a long time and creating facilities that match the integrity of those programs. Having the city’s arts organizations all under one roof will truly take Waterville to the next level.”
The design of the building, with a glass façade facing Castonguay Square, the city’s civic square, will make the Waterville Opera House building more visible from Main Street and enliven downtown at night. Visitors will access all of the arts programming through a shared entrance and atrium on Main Street, which will include a small café and a box office. The transparency of the building is also intended to signal the center’s accessibility to all.
The relocation of the Maine Film Center and Railroad Square Cinema to Main Street will significantly enhance the cinema experience for guests, providing state-of-the-art screening rooms with high-definition projection and improved seating. It will allow the Maine Film Center to fully realize its mission to enrich, entertain, and educate the community, adding year-round filmmaking workshops, lectures, and classes to its repertoire, according to Maine Film Center Executive Director Mike Perreault, a 2013 Colby graduate. Until the completion of the downtown center, Railroad Square Cinema will continue operations in its current location.
The building is located in the middle of the downtown section of Main Street. Combined with the College’s developments at both ends of the street—in the old Waterville Savings Bank building at 173 Main Street and the soon-to-be-completed Bill and Joan Alfond Main Street Commons at 150 Main Street, on the north end, and a boutique hotel at the south end—this project will attract visitors from the region and beyond that will enhance local businesses and attract new investments to Waterville, says Greene. Along with the Colby College Museum of Art, the Lunder Institute for American Art, and the planned center for arts and innovation at Colby, the new arts center downtown will attract even more visitors to Waterville.
The Colby College Museum of Art’s Carolyn Muzzy Director and Chief Curator Sharon Corwin sees this center and the Colby museum gallery as an opportunity to build on existing programs and partnerships while cementing Waterville’s identity as a destination for the arts. “The Colby museum has always played an important role in this community, and now, as it expands into downtown Waterville, it will reach an even broader audience,” said Corwin. “We see this gallery as a front door to the Colby museum and an opportunity to integrate more deeply into our community.”
Fundraising is underway for the project, and the timing of construction is dependent upon the success of those efforts.
Waterville Creates! promotes, supports, and grows the community’s arts and cultural assets in order to strengthen Waterville as a vibrant creative center, increase access to creative opportunities for residents and visitors, and advance community and economic development goals. It serves as the primary coordinating entity for arts and cultural programming in Waterville by working directly with the Colby College Museum of Art, Maine Film Center, Waterville Public Library, Waterville Opera House, and Common Street Arts to strengthen partnerships, expand collaborative programming, and launch new marketing initiatives.