WATERVILLE — The announcement last week that the Harold Alfond Foundation had awarded $1.5 million to Waterville Creates! and its partner organizations was one of the first public acknowledgments that the philanthropic organization is a main financial sponsor of the arts and culture collaborative.

Waterville Creates! Executive Director Nate Rudy said Monday that the foundation began supporting the organization through a number of grants starting last year. The financing helped establish Waterville Creates! and provided operational expenses to the Waterville Opera House and the Maine Film Center, Rudy said.

The announcement indicates the foundation’s commitment to making Waterville an arts and culture hub for the area, Rudy said.

“It really signals a new relationship between the Harold Alfond Foundation and the city of Waterville around building a community economy with arts and culture at the center of the downtown renaissance,” he said. The awards will help Waterville Creates! market Waterville as a destination on behalf of its partner organizations.

Waterville Creates! spokesman Dick Dyer said Monday that the foundation had kept quiet about its sponsorship of the organization until earlier this year, when it presented Waterville Creates! with a $100,000 check at the Harvest on the Square event in downtown Waterville. The foundation is often tight-lipped about its financial contributions to different organizations, he added.

“This was a quiet thing they were doing, and they wanted to be more public about it,” he said. “I don’t think there is anything unusual at all about it. They are quiet about what they do in general.”

The funding will cover a few years for the organization, he said.

While Waterville Creates! has backing from its partners, the community and other groups like the Unity Foundation, the Harold Alfond Foundation is the biggest supporter in terms of dollars, he said.

The foundation has for years been a financial backer of the Waterville Opera House and the Maine Film Center, according to its grant reports from past years.

In its 2014 report, the foundation stated it was “fair to say that the ‘arts’ were never a major focus for Mr. Alfond, even in Waterville” but recognized the importance of those organizations to the community. To that end, the foundation supported cultural and arts groups like the Opera House and Film Center with funding for operational, capital and programming needs. Through that giving the foundation sought to support the city’s economic development, according to its report.

Last year the foundation began targeting the arts sector as a whole as a catalyst for economic growth in the city. It awarded grant funding to establish Waterville Creates!, which replaced the Waterville Regional Arts and Community Center. The rebranded organization includes the Waterville Opera House, Maine Film Center, Colby College Museum of Art, Waterville Main Street, Waterville Public Library and Common Street Arts.

“With the name change comes a new mission: to coordinate the marketing and programming efforts for all of Waterville’s arts and cultural institutions,” the foundation said in its report. Waterville Creates! “is also well positioned to provide services that increase organizational efficiencies between and among institutions and to assist in the redevelopment of key historic properties as creative economy hubs,” the report said.

The foundation gave Waterville Creates! $200,000 and the Opera House $129,500 in 2014, according to its grants report. The awards were part of nearly $33 million the charity awarded last year to 41 organizations, focused on education, health care and youth development and aimed at communities in central Maine, specifically the Waterville area. The foundation had assets of just under $800 million last year, according to the report.

The foundation was established in 1950 to further the legacy of Harold Alfond, a founder of the Dexter Shoe Company. It has funded a number of high-profile projects in the Waterville area, including the Alfond Youth Center, the Good Will-Hinckley campus of the Kennebec Valley Community College and athletic facilities at Colby and Thomas colleges.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

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Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire