DAC: Fine entrance, fresh outlook

By Laurie LaMountain, Former Board Director with DAC Interim Director Susan Beane

DENMARK — You may have noticed that the Denmark Arts Center has a new front door.

In place of the pair of doors that allowed entry to members of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows when it opened in 1884, and then DAC audiences for the past 25 years, there is now one door that has been expertly designed and constructed to fit the Italianate Victorian style of the hall itself. Equally important is that the handsome new door is fire code compliant.

This is just one item on a list of issues that are being addressed in order to bring the 134-year-old building into compliance. An additional second-floor egress and an ADA-compliant entryway ramp are also on the list of items that will bring the building up to code.

Like a lot of rural arts centers, “the DAC” experiences the perennial pinch of seasonal audiences. It’s a lot easier to fill seats and hold workshops in the summertime. It’s also easier at that time of year to engage interest and bolster support than in the fallow months. Despite the inevitable seasonality of the arts center, it’s not possible to simply shut it down and forget about it until the next season. Opening and closing a building is a challenging and time-consuming feat for such an old and poorly-insulated building.

That’s when a community arts center reveals so much about the community around it.

In January of this year, Susan Beane was named interim executive director of the DAC. Prior to Beane stepping into the position, there had been a quick succession of directors that occurred in the midst of an ambitious capital campaign.

Under Jamie Hook’s direction, and with the support of the board of directors, a fundraising campaign had been initiated in December 2014 to purchase the historic home located directly across the street. The intention was to create a dedicated space for artists in residence, as well as a special event venue. In an amazing show of support, the campaign met its Phase I target goal of $75,000 by April of 2015.

In 2016, however, under new directorship and with several fire safety code violations, the board of directors was faced with the decision to continue with the campaign or address the fire safety concerns of the existing arts center. They wisely opted for the latter.

Following the May 2016 board meeting, a notice went out to campaign donors that read:

“After months of meetings with consultants from State and private organizations, we unanimously decided that the purchase of the Ora Brine house is not feasible at this time. […] In lieu of that campaign, we are re-energized and re-focused to allocate those funds, with your permission, towards our own historic building in need of fire safety upgrades and a lot of TLC, our new year-round educational and creative programming, and critical general operating support. These areas best feed our mission of providing quality arts programming and services to the entire Denmark community.”

Board members, along with the directors, then met with individual campaign donors who gave in excess of $500 to offer them the option to have their money returned or apply it to either building, operating or programming expense funds. In some instances, donors opted to split their donations between the three, but it was clear that support for the arts center was still there.

“Community members have wondered what happened with the capital campaign to buy the Ora Brine house across the street from the DAC,” Beane says. “Most contributors said they understood the board’s decision and they still wanted to donate to the arts center. The money is going back into the existing center. We have been chipping away at easier renovations to improve safety for the community, and our architect has drawn up plans to add a second-floor egress. We have been working with the assistant state fire marshal and Denmark’s fire chief to meet code.”

Despite the shift in focus, Beane managed to create an appealing program of performances, workshops, and art exhibitions this summer. By partnering with Celebration Barn in South Paris, she was able to bring family-friendly entertainment to the DAC stage each Friday night. Children’s camps, musical entertainment and theater performances were on a slightly smaller scale than in past summers. The gallery expanded by presenting an ongoing, element-influenced theme for the season with three, back-to-back exhibitions: Earth, Water, and Fire & Air.

Autumn offerings include pottery, guitar and songwriting workshops, as well as some exciting events. Metaphysical Follies opens the fall art exhibition; Beyond the Veil and the Final Vinyl dance party honors the inimitable sound of vinyl. Spring brings the possibility of felting classes and a jazz history course led by Mountain Top Music Center’s Mike Sakash and Jed Wilson, along with movie nights and contra and line dancing.

Partnerships with Celebration Barn and Mountain Top Music Center have been a most welcomed fuel for DAC. Continued support from the Town of Denmark for year-round residences to participate in DAC summer camps has also been a generous gift, demonstrating the value of family within our community.

Beane fully appreciates the importance of partnerships with community, surrounding towns and sustaining organizations to capture the spirit of creativity. When the Denmark Arts Center celebrates its 25th anniversary next year, the power of collaboration will be an integral part of programming.

Jon Allan Marshall will return as artist-in-residence in 2019. Currently, he is painting five local homesteads and will teach a two-day course on oil painting for advanced artists.

Mary Bastoni will create a 25-year DAC Retrospective in watercolor, as well as one-day watercolor workshop. In addition, DAC hopes to work with Mike Dana as artist-in-residence on an art installation and partner with the Jazz Residency Initiative to bring master jazz musicians to Denmark.

The new door at the DAC is something of a metaphor. At the suggestion of the board, Andy Narducci, who is a master woodworker based in North Conway, constructed it from vertical grain Douglas fir.

“They had the desire to build a door that had character,” says Narducci.

It’s a fine entrance. And one that leads to a new beginning and a promising future for the Denmark Arts Center.

To learn more about the DAC and for a list of upcoming events, visit denmarkarts.org

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