Johnson Hall Capital Campaign Director Carrie Arsenault left, and Executive Artistic Director Michael Miclon unveil the Raise the Curtain campaign for the historic opera house with a matching challenge gift of $250,000 from Peter and Sandra Prescott and Team EJP on July 9 at Gardiner’s Johnson Hall. Officials announced this week that the challenge was met. Jessica Lowell/Kennebec Journal file

GARDINER — The Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center has met a fundraising challenge issued in July, drawing donations from individuals and corporations to raise $500,000.

In meeting the challenge gift from Peter and Sandra Prescott and Team EJP, the state’s oldest opera house is now just about $500,000 short of meeting its $5.5 million goal.

“The community really seems to be coming together,” Peter Prescott said. “It could always be better, but boy, it’s better than it used to be. It’s going to be a great thing; it’s going to bring in a lot of outsiders, which is going to help everybody.”

Michael Miclon, Johnson Hall’s executive artistic director, said the Prescott challenge gift means more to the performing arts center than just the money raised.

“The generosity of Peter Prescott and his leadership — to have his seal of approval is as valuable as the dollars we were able to raise,” Miclon said. “When Peter believes something, people believe it’s going to happen.”

The challenge was announced in July at the same time Miclon announced that construction on the historic opera house’s upper theater will start in April.

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That 400-seat theater has been closed for decades. Johnson Hall has been putting on shows and performances in its Studio Theater, which seats about 115 people, and it has been hosting free summer concerts at Gardiner’s Waterfront Park.

“This means we have raised just around $1 million this year,” Miclon said.

The Prescott challenge match was met with a $55,000 donation from Pine State Trading Co., on top of a $45,000 gift the company had already made.

“We were always excited to be a part of this,” said Gena Canning, one of the owners of Pine State Trading. “We’re a little bigger part of it now.”

Pine State focuses its charitable giving on projects that will have an impact on education and children and child care. The company is supporting the Johnson Hall project, she said, because of its artists-in-the-schools program and Spark, its summer theater camp for children.

“The message from us is that we feel very fortunate to have our company in the greater Kennebec Valley and we think Johnson Hall is a really important part of the strategy to improve the quality of life in the region,” Canning said. “We feel very strongly about being stewards of this community.”

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With Pine State’s gift comes naming rights for the theater’s new concession stand.

To meet Prescott’s challenge, money was raised through four different fundraisers, gifts from foundations and businesses, and donations from 26 people.

As part of the challenge, the Creativity Fund for Gardiner issued its own challenge to the creative community in southern Kennebec County by matching every artist’s contribution dollar for dollar up to $25,000.

“Every dollar counts when raising funds and we encourage everyone to participate whether it is a portion of the sale of a single piece or the entire proceeds from the sale or a particular item — whatever the artist chooses,” said Phyllis Gardiner, niece of Henry Gardiner who started the Creativity Fund. “Our goal is to celebrate and draw attention to the amazingly talented and creative artists in this region while helping to raise the curtain of a major venue for high-quality entertainment and arts education.”

To encourage artists to take part, Johnson Hall is exhibiting work in its Studio Theater and in the lobby from September through March, wrapping up just before construction is slated to start. Thirty percent of the sales, plus the dollar-for-dollar match, will go directly to the theater renovation.

Johnson Hall is also seeking federal money through the Community Project Funding program, which allows congressional delegations to seek funding for projects in their districts.

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U.S. Rep. Jared Golden included Johnson Hall’s request on the list of projects he submitted for consideration, and the project has also earned the endorsement of U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King.

In August, the $411,710 request was approved in the U.S. House of Representatives as part of its appropriations process. It then headed to the Senate for consideration. If that proposal survives the congressional budgeting process, that leaves only about $100,000 left to raise.

Miclon has been working toward this point since he was first hired at Johnson Hall more than eight years ago, although it’s been in the works for about three decades.

With the challenge completed, Miclon said the focus now turns to hiring a construction manager to shepherd the process of renovating the upper theater.

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