SIDNEY — With an infusion of funds from a federal loan, the Snow Pond Center for the Arts has acquired the means to complete its efforts to turn the 88-year-old campus into a destination for national touring acts and finish the accommodations needed for its music camp and affiliated arts academy.

The United States Department of Agriculture is lending the Sidney nonprofit $1.846 million as part of its community facilities loan program to fund the renovation of the Bowl in the Pines and complete its learning center and recital hall.

“We want Sidney to have the same great bands in our backyard as there are in southern and northern Maine,” said Christa Johnson, Snow Pond’s director of development, during an interview at the center on a recent afternoon.

The Bowl in the Pines, situated on the 40-acre Snow Pond campus at the edge of Messalonskee Lake, is already one of the largest outdoor stages in the country, according to Johnson. However, the amphitheater currently lacks the infrastructure to accommodate the sound and light equipment of larger, national touring acts.

To change that, Johnson said they are extending the stage by 8 feet, installing electrical wiring and building a steel framework that will sit in front of the bowl and house the light and sound equipment.

With the addition of an amplified sound system, John Wiggin, the center’s executive director, said they will also need to install something to absorb some of the sound to avoid an echo.

“When we play a show with natural sound, we don’t have to use amplifiers because the bowl’s acoustics are fantastic,” Wiggin said, comparing the bowl to the shape of an old phonograph speaker. “It projects sound like you won’t believe.”

“But what will happen is that while they’re playing with amplifiers it throws some sound back,” he said. “The amps will project sound out and then an echo would follow.”

Wiggin said some kind of fabric, potentially curtains, would be able to diminish the likelihood of the echo.

The amphitheater, which was built in the 1930s, will also need new steel support structures to better anchor it into the ground.

A new concession stand, equipped with a bar and beer garden, an increase in seating capacity from 2,000 to 6,000, larger bathrooms and additional parking also will be funded by the loan.

“A lot of (these upgrades) is for the audience so that they can have a more pleasurable experience,” Johnson said.

With these upgrades, Johnson hopes the center will add more ticketed events during their summer season in addition to the 12 free concerts they now offer annually.

Last year, Snow Pond hosted seven ticketed performances. Johnson said she’d like to see that expanded to eight or 10 next summer and have that number grow a little each year.

Johnson said this summer’s biggest concert will be put on September 5 by a Beatles tribute band from England called The Fab Four.

The process of applying for the loan began about a year ago, Wiggin said. Construction on the stage expansion has already begun and work will continue until mid-June when the New England Music Camp, which is held annually at Snow Pond, is running. The camp uses the amphitheater for their concerts.

Work will be finished in September after the summer season ends.

FUTURE OF SNOW POND

The rest of the money from the loan will help refinance other smaller loans at a lower interest rate, but it will also help pay for parts of different projects that Wiggin said is part of the center’s five-year plan.

Two of those projects include the nearly finished 6,200-square-foot innovative learning center and a 2,300-square-foot recital hall, which they plan to make available for community events.

The learning center contains both classroom and rehearsal space, which Wiggin said was an immediate need of the Snow Pond Arts Academy, which is a public charter school that leases space from the center.

The recital hall will have lecture space, performing space and a small science center.

Wiggin, whose grandparents founded the center and camp in the early 1930s, said the organization’s focus going forward is to get instruments in the hands of kids as music and arts programs are getting cut from public school budgets.

The center currently offers an after school program for students in first through eighth grade that teaches music and theater and provides academic support as well as recreation. Additionally, this summer the center is offering a new camp that also teaches theater, arts and music.

The new rehearsal and learning spaces will help support these programs.

“We have this orientation as a family for public education,” Wiggin said, adding that his grandfather was the band director at Cony High School and both of his parents were school teachers. “Music cultivates so many of the skills kids need to be successful.”

Emily Higginbotham — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @EmilyHigg

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