WATERVILLE — Building community through the arts was the focus of a downtown tour taken Friday by U.S. Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, and a roundtable discussion about arts and culture held afterward at Waterville Creates!

Pingree toured The Center at 93 Main St., which is targeted for a major transformation into a center for art and film; the Waterville Opera House; and the new $25.5 million Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons, which opened in August and houses about 200 Colby College students and faculty and staff members.

Shannon Haines, president and chief executive officer of Waterville Creates!, Brian Clark, Colby’s vice president for planning, and Garvan Donegan, senior economic development specialist with the Central Maine Growth Council, led the tour.

They explained that Colby and Waterville Creates! are working to raise $18 million to $20 million to turn The Center into a thriving hub for art and film with a contemporary art gallery on the first floor, a relocated Railroad Square Cinema on the second, and educational classroom space in the basement. Part of the south side of the building will be shaved off and glassed in, expanding the size of Castonguay Square, a park in the center of the city. So far about $8 million has been raised toward the effort.

Colby is investing about $65 million into the downtown, with plans to build a boutique hotel on the south end of Main Street starting next year. The college also renovated 173 Main St., which houses CGI, a technology firm, and Colby offices on upper floors and Portland Pie Co. on the first floor. Camden National Bank will move into the first floor of 150 Main St., the Alfond Commons, over the weekend, and open Monday, with a ribbon-cutting scheduled for Nov. 5.

Pingree, co-chairman of the bipartisan Congressional Arts Caucus and a member of the House Appropriations Interior Subcommittee, announced earlier this year that Waterville Creates! had received a $75,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to partner with Colby and the city to redesign Castonguay Square. The first of three workshops to get public input for that design was held last week at The Center.

Pingree had called for Friday’s roundtable discussion held at the Hathaway Creative Center, the temporary home of Waterville Creates! until that organization moves back to the Center once work there is completed. Besides Haines, Donegan and Clark, who also is a member of the board of directors of Waterville Creates! and the Growth Council, those attending included Tammy Rabideau, interim executive director of Waterville Public Library; Michael Perreault, executive director of the Maine Film Center; Opera House Executive Director Tamsen Brooke Warner; Sharon Corwin; Carolyn Muzzy, director and chief curator of the Colby Museum of Art; Patricia King, vice president of Waterville Creates!; Nate Towne, marketing director of Waterville Creates!; Elizabeth Jabar, Colby director of civic engagement and community partnerships; Pam Trinward, a field representative for Pingree; and Bethany Bausang, district representative for Pingree.

Maddie Taylor and Zack Mishoulan, Colby seniors and government majors who live at the Alfond Main Street Commons and are unpaid interns at Pingree’s Waterville office, also attended. Trinward said part of the requirements for living in the downtown dormitory is that students be involved in civic engagement, and their work with Pingree is part of that work.

The discussion Friday centered around the importance of art and culture in a community and ensuring all families, children and individuals have access to art and educational offerings. Haines said Waterville Creates!, the Opera House and the Film Center will merge officially next week, which will ensure long-term sustainability as the three organizations plan for shared operations in the future art and film center downtown.

Pingree was impressed, she said, with ongoing efforts in Waterville to help strengthen and enhance the arts and by the collaboration by those advocating for the arts such as the people attending the roundtable discussion.

“I’m just really grateful that you all have worked so hard to this point and for all of the incredible things that are happening,” she said.

Pingree, whose Waterville office is on Silver Street downtown, recalled the evolution of the arts in her hometown, North Haven, where she has lived since 1971.

She was chairwoman of the school board many years ago, and the island was experiencing a financial downturn in which there was not enough money for everything needed. The five members of the school board could not agree on what to trim in the budget, and ultimately, music and art were cut, Pingree said. She recommended they start to raise money by holding bake sales and see where they could go from there.

That little bit of fundraising eventually evolved into the development of North Haven Arts & Enrichment, and over time, visiting artists came to the island, an art teacher was hired, a theater program developed and parents got involved.

Children started taking part in theater, and when students spoke at graduation years later, they had the presence of Broadway stars, according to Pingree.

“It was such an amazing lesson to me in a town of 400,” she said.

North Haven now has a small performing arts center and people support it, she said.

“It was a great lesson for me, and when I got into the state Legislature in the ’90s, I got interested in arts financing and funding in Congress,” she said, adding that she is co-chairman of the bipartisan Congressional Arts Caucus, which fights for support of the arts.

“There really is bipartisan support for it. You just have to remind people that that’s there,” she said.

As a member of the House Appropriations Interior Subcommittee, which oversees funding for the arts and humanities, Pingree helped to bring two National Endowment for the Arts chairmen to Maine.

Asked whether funding is available through grants for projects such as the future center for art and film in downtown Waterville, Pingree said, “Absolutely,” and that such projects can be eligible for federal funding.

Understanding what the funding needs are is important to seek such funding, and Pingree’s office would be happy to help, including writing letters of support, she said.

Clark, Colby’s vice president for planning, said he and others want to meet with Pingree in her Portland office to talk about possibilities.

“Thank you for that invitation and for that conversation,” Clark said.

Pingree said she planned to visit Waterville’s new $1.5 million RiverWalk at Head of Falls on Friday afternoon.

In a separate issue, Pingree was asked to comment on the explosives recently sent to political leaders and member of the news media. She said in an email that, although safety is not a new concern for elected officials or their staff, “threats of violence have no place in our democracy.”

“As the press has reported, in 2014, we were threatened by an individual who said he wanted to kill me and President (Barack) Obama,” she said. “Regrettably, this was not the first threat of violence directed toward me or my staff. Every day I am grateful for my brave staff who serve despite the threat of violence and for the Capitol Police who not only protect us from harm but alert us to potential threats. We are thinking of our former leaders, congressional colleagues and members of the media who were targeted with explosives earlier this week.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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