April 15, 2012

Scene & Heard: Soiree celebrates One Longfellow Square's growth in community

'Partners keep finding us. I have a very busy email inbox,' says executive director Rob Ellis.

By Avery Yale Kamila akamila@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

On Wednesday night as the setting sun broke through the clouds, Charlie Miller opened the doors of his stately brick home in Portland's West End for a private party honoring supporters of the One Longfellow Square performance venue.

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Board member and party host Charlie Miller, board president Ellie Chase and executive director Rob Ellis.

Avery Yale Kamila / Staff Writer

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John Williams, executive director of 317 Main Street Community Music Center, bar manager Brittan Pistole, board member Jon Cooper and office manager Fiona O'Grady.

Avery Yale Kamila / Staff Writer

Additional Photos Below

A year ago, the organization began the transition to not-for-profit status and the party -- complete with cocktails and abundant appetizers -- served to thank all the people who've made the conversion possible.

One of the most visible changes at the venue can be seen during the day, when One Longfellow Square hosts programs for young people in collaboration with a diverse array of partner organizations.

"We're getting all kinds of support and interest," Executive Director Rob Ellis told me. "People are coming to us."

From these contacts, One Longfellow Square has begun a number of collaborations with organizations that include the Portland Symphony Orchestra, A Company of Girls and the Maine Irish Heritage Center.

Since One Longfellow Square publicly announced its move to not-for-profit status and began recruiting supporters in September of last year, it's had 170 people join as members.

"It's an explosion of creativity," Ellis said. "Partners keep finding us. I have a very busy email inbox."

When I spoke with volunteer Nikki Gribbin, who coordinates One Longfellow Square's community partnerships, she agreed that the response to the organization's call for collaborators has been rather overwhelming.

"When I first started this, my goal was to find between four and six organizations to partner with," Gribbin told me. "Now we've had to par down our scope. We don't have enough hours in a day to accommodate all the demand."

Among the partners Gribbin has been able to fit into the schedule are the Reiche Community School, The REAL School and LearningWorks.

"The whole purpose is to get unique arts opportunities to kids who wouldn't normally get them," Gribbin said.

One of the collaborations involves LearningWorks and Oak Street Studios. The three organizations are working with 12 third-, fourth- and fifth-graders who meet once a week to create short claymation films.

"They're working on sets, storyboards and characters," Megan Pollino of Oak Street Studios told me. "Soon they'll start shooting their own two-minute films."

Amy Pichette of LearningWorks said the students are very engaged in the project.

"A lot of the skills they're learning extend into the school day," Pichette told me.

Another collaboration has opened the venue to the nontraditional students at The REAL School.

"We've done a hip-hop literacy class and a sound and light class," Martin Mackey of The REAL School told me.

Page Nichols, also of The REAL School, explained that the sound and light class teaches the students how to hook up equipment, do mic checks and run the sound board.

"You can make a lot of money deejaying," Nichols said, "and they're getting this class for free."

And the collaborations keep rolling in.

"We just met with the folks at the Center for Grieving Children," said board member Joyce Schmitt.

She told me the center often works with the children it serves to put together a music CD. In the past, the release party for the album took place at the center's office. But this year the event will take place at One Longfellow Square.

"It's a whole different experience for these kids to get up on stage and have mics," Schmitt told me.

About halfway through the party, the roughly 100 guests in attendance crowded into the front room to hear our host and board member offer a few remarks.

"We could not have survived last fall and into the winter if we had not become a nonprofit," Miller told the crowd. "Thanks to the bridge money you gave us ... it allowed us to put together great programming."

When she spoke to the guests, board president Ellie Chase said, "It's pretty exciting that our vision is coming to fruition so soon."

But it was Miller who left guests with concrete advice on how they can help keep One Longfellow Square afloat when he said, "The most important way you can support us is by getting your friends, associates and family members to buy tickets."

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at: akamila@pressherald.com

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila

SEND PARTY INVITES two weeks in advance to Avery Yale Kamila, Maine Sunday Telegram, One City Center, Portland, ME 04101 or akamila@pressherald.com.

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Additional Photos

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Megan Pollino of Oak Street Studios, Martin Mackey of The REAL School and Page Nichols of The REAL School.

Avery Yale Kamila / Staff Writer

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Supporters Deb Cook, Tony Holt and Lindsay Hancock.

Avery Yale Kamila / Staff Writer


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