A sketch of interior renovations proposed at First Parish Congregational Church and Freeport and Arts & Cultural Alliance of Freeport for the new Meetinghouse Arts venue at the church. Courtesy Arts & Cultural Alliance of Freeport

FREEPORT — The Arts & Cultural Alliance of Freeport is moving ahead with plans to open Meetinghouse Arts, a performance and visual arts venue at First Parish Church at 40 Main St., and is well beyond the halfway marks in its fundraising goal.

The campaign goal is to raise just over a $500,000 for the project by the end of March, said Ed Bradley, the project committee’s chairman. The town of Freeport committed $133,000 in tax funding dedicated to downtown development in April 2019, and the alliance has raised an additional $240,000 from private sources so far.

LoScuito

The alliance must raise the remaining funding from donations from the community, local businesses and grants, Executive Director Janelle LoScuito said.

LoScuito said the organization expects to sustain the cost of the venue with an annual fundraising campaign, project grants and annual fundraisers.

Freeport has a long history of participation in and appreciation for arts and culture, and

LoScuito said the alliance’s mission of the alliance is to help the town foster appreciation of the arts.

“One way that the organization will achieve its goals is by creating a hub for arts and culture in the heart of downtown Freeport, Meetinghouse Arts,” LoScuito said.

Discussions between the First Parish Church and Arts and Cultural Alliance began last year. Design plans have been submitted to the town’s Project Review Board and Bradley said it’s expected that renovations will begin in April.

“We have been working on the arts center for over a year and we’re nearing completion of a number of steps that were preliminary to mounting our community fundraising effort,” Bradley said.

According to LoScuito, the terms of the lease are still being negotiated.

“We estimate that we will open in September 2020; however that is not a firm date, as beginning construction is contingent upon us raising the necessary funds,” she said. “In our effort to be fiscally responsible with our donors’ funds, we pledged not to begin construction until we raised the entire amount necessary.”

The design includes renovating the church’s first floor into a 200-seat performance space and visual arts gallery. The church would continue to hold Sunday services in the renovated sanctuary space, and the alliance would assume responsibility for operating and maintaining the entire structure.

The venue and gallery space will provide opportunities for local schools to work with Freeport’s cultural organizations and individual artists to increase arts, cultural and heritage-based activities for students and teachers, LoScuito said. It will allow artists to have access to affordable studio space and places to exhibit visual arts in the downtown and visitors and community members to enjoy the opportunities presented by cultural activities.

The Freeport Cultural Plan, created in February 2018 by a consulting firm with help from the town and the Arts and Cultural Alliance, identified the need for a mid-sized performance venue and cultural center in downtown Freeport. The consulting firm’s team heard from 83 artists and creative professionals and 24 cultural organizations and businesses during the plan’s development process, including private entities and nonprofits.

LoScuito said the seeds for Meetinghouse Arts were planted more than a decade ago when Casco Bay YMCA was being developed. The Freeport Community Center was expanded in 2012 and, to a limited extent, its community room addressed the interest in a mid-sized performance space. However, LoScuito said its limitations as a performance space and the competing demands for its use have not met the needs of the town’s arts and cultural community.

“We see Meetinghouse Arts as a cultural hub that leads initiatives benefiting the community’s quality of life. Within its walls, leadership, strategies and communication networks will develop, providing the building blocks that help support a resilient and prosperous creative economy,” LoScuito said.

For more information, visit freeportartsandculture.org.

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