GARDINER — A competitive grant awarded to Johnson Hall will help its board members push ahead with raising money for the historic opera house’s renovation.

Jane’s Trust Foundation has given $75,000 in capital support for the theater’s renovation project.

“This is the largest single competitive grant we have received in 30 years,” said Mike Miclon, executive artistic director of Johnson Hall.

The theater’s board has embarked on plan to renovate the 400-seat theater on the third floor of its Water Street building in downtown Gardiner and reopen it in 2019. Construction is expected to start next year.

This is the latest milestone in a plan to raise $4.8 million to pay for the project.

With it, the board has hired Carrie Arsenault as capital campaign director for two years. Arsenault starts Monday. Board members say they hope to convert that job into a development position.


“This is not the easiest grant to get,” Miclon said. “We had to meet their standards.”

Jane’s Trust, a regional family philanthropy based in Boston, supports projects in arts and culture, education, health and welfare, and environment, mostly in Northern New England.

Gioia Perugini, a program officer of Jane’s Trust, said via email that the trust awards grants twice a year through a competitive process that includes screening and review by both the staff and trustees. In each grant cycle, the trust receives about 200 preliminary applications. Only about two dozen applicants are invited to submit full proposals, and the review includes a site visit with the applicant’s board and staff leadership and an examination of the financial and business plans.

Patrick Wright, chairman of the opera house renovation steering committee, said the grant will allow the capital campaign director to focus solely on the job of fundraising.

“We’ll be able to go further faster,” he said.

“If we do our work right during the capital campaign,” Miclon said, “we’ll make fans of the organization, who will commit to the broader vision of who we are.”


This award is the latest step in the planned renovation of the opera house theater on Johnson Hall’s third floor.

In November 2015, the board hired Opus Advisors, of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a capital campaign consulting firm, to help orchestrate the fundraising campaign.

In September, Kennebec Savings Bank donated $100,000, committed to purchase all the tax credits the project has qualified for and assembled both construction and pledge financing packages.

The last time the upper theater hosted an event was for Johnson Hall’s 150th anniversary in 2014. Before that, the last time the theater was used regularly was in the 1980s. The historic theater was built in 1864 and is the oldest opera house in Maine that’s still in use as a theater.

Renovation plans call for restoring the theater on the third floor, building a lobby and concession area on the second floor along with performers’ dressing and green rooms, and a full-service box office and foyer on the ground floor for the Studio Theater, which will remain open.

Johnson Hall currently hosts live music, comedy and theater performances in its 110-seat Studio Theater on the ground floor, which consistently sell out. Last fall, movies were added to its roster of shows. From June to September, Johnson Hall hosts free concerts on Gardiner’s waterfront.


It also offers programs for children through its SPARK performing arts summer day camps and by arranging performances by visiting artists in area schools.

Developing programming that’s consistently popular was essential in making the case that renovating the upper theater makes good business sense, Wright and Miclon said, for the grant and for potential donors.

Miclon said while capital campaigns for the Gardiner theater have been talked about in the past, no campaign was put in motion before this one.

Andrew MacLean, president of the Johnson Hall board of directors, said in a news release that he’s excited about the funding and the effect the project will have on downtown Gardiner.

“Johnson Hall is the anchor in the center of downtown and has made substantial contributions to the cultural and economic life of Gardiner,” he said. “Our plan for a performing arts center in downtown Gardiner will dramatically expand its cultural and economic impact on the city and in the surrounding communities.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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