Frank Howell, who opened the Magic Lantern in 2008 with a goal to “bring people together” said he’s looking forward to the theater’s next step. File photo


The purchase and sale of Bridgton’s Magic Lantern Theater by the Maine 4-H Foundation and its transformation into a learning hub for kids is drawing closer.

Susan Jennings, executive director of the Maine 4-H Foundation, said last week that appropriation funds from the offices of Maine Sen. Angus King and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree will leave only $100,000 left to fundraise out of a total cost of $3.5 million. The closing is planned for Oct. 15, Jennings said, and youth programs will then hopefully be underway.

The Maine 4-H Foundation, a nonprofit partnered with the University of Maine that focuses on youth programming, has five other learning centers across the state, Jennings said. Since the Bridgton area does not have a cooperative extension office or university close by, the Magic Lantern Theater will provide necessary youth development in the region through partnerships with schools and other nonprofits.

“It’s going to be an incredibly creative program,” Jennings said.

The building hasn’t undergone any renovations or changes, and revenue from the onsite pub and movie theater will sustain the new learning center, she said.


In 2017, Frank Howell, who owns the Magic Lantern and built it with his family a decade before, placed the building on the market as a commercial real estate property, but conversations in the Bridgton community then arose about what it could be.

“We really wanted to have a place for community to happen right here in the center of town,” Howell said of his family’s original goal for the theater. As the owners and operators of Down East Innovation, a company focused on developing products for the military, running the Magic Lantern was a hobby for his family, Howell said, and he’s excited to pass the torch on to new owners. 

The Magic Lantern has three auditoriums and classroom space that can be used for youth programming, Jennings said, and will include STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), as well as the arts, with help from partners such as the Rufus Porter Museum.

Karla Leandri Rider, executive director of the Rufus Porter Museum, said she looks forward to working with the Magic Lantern to provide kids with a “multi-faceted approach” to arts education.

“Rufus Porter was a folk art muralist … but he was also an inventor and founder of Scientific American (magazine),” Leandri Rider said. Any community outreach the museum would help facilitate would involve many levels of hands-on learning, she said.

The new center will also provide kids with professional ties with guest lectures from University of Maine professors, Jennings said. Schools such as Fryeburg Academy, Oxford Hills, Molly Ockett and those within the Lake Region district are expected to be involved.


Support from the Bridgton community has made the vision possible, Jennings said, with the Bridgton-Lake Region Rotary Club helping with a portion of the fundraising.

Carol Madsen, Rotary Club public relations committee chairperson, said the club has been matching up to $10,000 in local contributions from individuals, small businesses and nonprofits.

“We are very committed to youth in the area and opportunities they might have,” Madsen said. “We just felt like (the center) could be a resource that all educational institutions could use.”

Jennings said current staff operating the movie theater and pub will be brought on board and continue in their roles while new staff for the learning center will be hired.

Local families should be able to sign up their kids for programs at the center this fall, Jennings said. “I’m hoping COVID gets under control in the next month and half,” she said.

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