AUGUSTA — Artists collaborating on a multimedia project examining aging, wisdom and notions of home say they fell in love with the Colonial Theater the moment they stepped into it.

What better place to tell the story of aging in Maine than the old and neglected but once-beloved and productive Colonial Theater, where proponents of its restoration say beauty still exists if you take the time to look underneath its time-worn surfaces.

Home/Resilience, an experiential documentary art installation that uses the voices and stories of two Augusta women in their 90s, opens in the Colonial Theater June 12. The documentary features Nona Treworgy and Ruth Barnhart, who had to find new places to live when St. Mark’s Home for Women closed in Augusta last year, and examines aging, wisdom and just what it is that makes someplace “home.”

It will be the first public performance at the Colonial Theater since it showed its last film 46 years ago.

“The same way I was enchanted by the story of Ruth and Nona, I very much felt the same way about the Augusta Colonial Theater the second we stepped into it,” said Caroline Losneck, one of the three Portland artists who collaborated on the project. “We were just drawn to the potential of the place and the fact it had been mostly neglected since the late 1960s. What do you do with places or people that are often neglected? Thematic overlaps are something we like. (The theater) has been a nice part of this project.”

Audience members, organizers said, will experience the project as welcome visitors into a re-imagined home with multiple story lines and art installations. That includes a “front-porch micro-cinema” just inside the entrance to the former movie house on Water Street where the first screening of “A Home for Women,” a short documentary by Losneck, Betsy Carson and Kate Kaminski, will be shown.

In addition there will be oral histories, layered mixed media portraits by visual artist Kelly Rioux and sculpture by Chris Byron.

“We feel very privileged to be the first people to present a piece in the Colonial Theater since 1969,” said Byron, noting the parallel themes their project shares with efforts to revitalize the long-vacant theater as a home for the arts in Augusta.

Richard Parkhurst, president of Augusta Colonial Theater and a leader of efforts to restore the decrepit brick theater on the riverside, said developing the downtown area into a cultural center is the best way to revitalize it, and a restored, historic Colonial Theater could be the hub for such culture and the arts in the city.

He acknowledges the theater reopening is two or three years away, but said hosting the Home/Resilience project is a good way to begin establishing the theater as a home for the arts and a draw in downtown Augusta.

“It is an exciting arts project that has community engagement at its center and has great potential to draw audiences from Augusta and beyond to our downtown during the summer,” Parkhurst recently told Augusta City Councilors. “Art projects like Home/Resilience will help downtown Augusta achieve its potential as a place for all people to live, work, visit and come together.”

Losneck said she was drawn to tell the story of the women after reading a Kennebec Journal article about the then-pending closure of St. Mark’s Home for Women last year. She said as soon as she read the story she wanted to go talk to the women themselves, to hear and be able to tell their stories. She said sometimes people tend to simplify and stereotype older residents rather than look at them as individuals.

“Nona and Ruth were pretty open to talking about it,” Losneck said. “Both the women were both taking the move gracefully, more so than I would have myself. They’re both different. Ruth was kind of looking forward to it. Nona had some concerns, was more worried, but also said she looked at the move like, ‘If I have to, I have to.'”

Both women eventually found new places to live in Augusta. Barnhart moved to Howell House, and Treworgy to the Inn at City Hall. Barnhart declined comment for this story, and Treworgy could not be reached for comment.

Rioux, the visual artist of the three collaborating artists, said likely everyone can relate to the story of aging in some way.

The creation and installation for the project was funded by a grant from SPACE Gallery’s Kindling Fund.

Augusta city councilors also voted, last week, to allow $2,800 from the city’s Downtown TIF District account to be used to fund community outreach related to the project. Losneck said the funds would be used to bring the project to, and continue interviewing residents at, local senior housing sites such as the Inn at City Hall.

Steve Pecukonis, executive director of the Augusta Downtown Alliance, urged councilors to support the proposal.

“This installation and the additional activities that support it would assist in transforming the public’s perception of the Colonial Theater from a derelict building to a potential arts and culture anchor in the city’s downtown district,” he said. “It would also bring attention to a powerful demographic reality currently shaping Maine, the nation and the city of Augusta: our aging population and the burgeoning number of older citizens.”

Additionally, Pecukonis noted, it will bring business to the downtown’s restaurants and retail shops and introduce downtown to new people.

Byron said he and the other artists were struck by the significant efforts now underway to add more housing for elderly residents, such as the nearing-completion redevelopment of the former Cony flatiron building into senior housing and the proposed conversion of the former Hodgkins Middle School into senior housing.

The June 12 premiere of Home/Resilience is from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. The installation, which is free and open to the public, will be open for a month, but the days and hours it will be open have not yet been determined.

The short film “A Home for Women” will also be screened at the Colonial Theater June 20 as part of the Camden International Film Festival’s “Aging in Maine” statewide tour along with the other aging-in-Maine related short films, “The Caretaker” and “De’mem’bunce — The Remembrance,” followed by a filmmaker and artist question-and-answer session.

Losneck noted the “A Home for Women” film is focused on the former St. Mark’s Home residents while the larger Home/Resilience project, which that film is part of, seeks to address larger issues of aging and the role of the community as we age.

The Colonial Theater opened in downtown Augusta in 1913 featuring silent films with live music until movies with their own audio were introduced. It closed in 1969 and has been vacant since. It is owned by a nonprofit group which hopes to restore it as a space for the arts.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj