FREEPORT — Arts, culture and religion will soon share space on Main Street.

The Town Council on April 23 unanimously appropriated $133,000 in tax increment financing funds to the Arts & Cultural Alliance of Freeport to help the nonprofit renovate and lease First Parish Church at 40 Main St. for an arts and cultural center. 

“We are so thankful for the Town Council and their support,” Hannah Gathman, coordinating director for ACAF, said. “Even before ACAF was formed in 2015, this town has been looking for a place for local artists to display their work, along with a space that theater productions and other events can be held in, and we found that with the church.”

According to Gathman, the grant covers close to half of the $288,000 project budget. When complete, the center will include a performance venue equipped with a stage in what is now the church sanctuary. The stage will be used for concerts as well as theater productions, and the room already provides seating for 200 people.

“It’s incredible that we are going to be able to use this space because we all know how important the arts are in this town,” Gathman said. “There has been a need for this space for quite some time.”

Meeting rooms off the sanctuary will be converted to a gallery and exhibit area that can be used for classes, receptions, workshops and a “wide variety of other gatherings,” Gathman said. 

According to Eric C. Smith, a trustee at First Parish Church Congregational UCC, the church will continue to hold Sunday services in the sanctuary and will host other community programs in the lower level of the building. 

“Many church members use the building primarily on Sunday mornings,” Smith said. “There’s an acknowledgment that the community has a need we can fill and we have a building (ACAF) can fill on those other days of the week.

“Those of us who are in the building the most, the leaders bearing the responsibility for keeping the building and the church going, are perhaps the most enthusiastic about sharing this responsibility with a new group that will bring new energy and enthusiasm into this space.”

According to Smith, First Parish was established in 1789, the same year the town was separated from North Yarmouth.

“Our congregation has always been connected to the town and the community, regardless of church membership,” Smith said. “Historically, our meetinghouse was where all sorts of community gatherings and town meetings occurred. It’s a natural fit to share our space to another group whose mission is to serve the community.”

ACAF is finalizing business and renovation plans while working with First Parish congregants on the lease and use agreement. Additionally, a capital campaign is being launched to raise the funds needed to complete the project, according to ACAF President Jane Bradley.

“We are reaching out to members of the community and corporations to see if they would like to help us with this mission and we will also be looking into other grants as well,” Bradley said.

She said it’s too early to estimate when the renovation project will begin and how long it will take to complete.

“This is the very beginning and we have to all get together as a group again and move on to the next stage of planning,” Bradley said. “We have a lot of work to do, but we are excited to finally get this thing going.”

Bradley said she’s been contacted by many residents since the organization was granted the TIF funds. She said the community is “elated” to finally have a space dedicated to arts and culture. 

“There are so many talented people in this town,” Bradley said, “and now their work can be seen by everyone who comes into this historic building.”

Patti McDonald can be reached at 780-9123 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter: @pmcdonaldme.

The Arts & Cultural Alliance of Freeport plans to lease the First Parish Congregrational Church on Main Street to establish an exhibit and performance center.

Jane Bradley, left, president of the Arts & Cultural Alliance of Freeport, and David Webster, chairman of the ACAF venue selection committee, said they are excited to have a dedicated space for arts and culture in Freeport.

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