Staying the Course by Monica Callan

an embraceable life Jun 14, 2018

I’m a dreamer--not because my nationality is being questioned at the border, or I stare out windows at clouds instead of doing my work, but because I love to look for possibilities that may not be obvious and I get excited about what those possibilities may present. For the past couple of years, I've been dreaming about buildings.  It's always fun when my ideas are met with collaboration and enthusiasm and there is already a momentum of current behind it, providing me an outlet to serve an effort.  For the past couple of years I've been dreaming about buildings-- a lot.  And lately I find myself the one establishing the current and this can be personally challenging for me.  Sometimes these ideas do not fit the “norm” or pose the path of least resistance.  Sometimes sharing these visions evokes an amused chuckle, or gets me a pat on the head with a “What a great idea!  Good luck with that!” and in some cases the uncomfortable shuffling of feet and averted eyes.   

Architect, Chris Alley created this rendering of this addition to Wasson Hall, a building on the "State Complex" severely damaged by the flood. Reimagining it into an arts center was a SUPER fun possibility to dream on!

Wasson Hall, a sweet building with a TON of potential. Currently it still stands empty in this raw, post-flood state.


Since 2011, staying the course has been hard for me.  Before that I was clearly dedicated (maybe even too much so) to pursuing a path that I wanted and gave me joy, despite its trials.  But because of events that happened starting in 2011 (Hello, Life!), my best-laid plans had to change and shift. I was determined to make use of myself in these new circumstances and saw within the events an opportunity to reclaim a dream that I had held since childhood—having an art center in my hometown. I had attempted this before, but in those ventures, clearly the town was not ready to understand the value an arts center offers a community, or they didn’t want their taxes to go up any more, or it was just the classic example of New Englanders resistant to change.  I could respect these concerns, as I held them all myself, but I also had a career of working in the arts and experiencing the tremendous subtle and not-so-subtle benefits that the arts offer individuals, communities, and economies. And our town, after being swept away in the course of Tropical Storm Irene, desperately needed all those things.  This was the time if there ever was going to be one.  


This building, also on the State Complex, was another historical site we looked at. They used it as a staging platform while renovating what they kept of the State Complex, and then tore it down later. We tried to see if we could save it by moving the metal trusses which were designed much like those in Grange Central Station. The State decided to crush them rather than let us give them new life. Sigh....

So I launched a renewed effort and showed up at every possible meeting.  Despite the open attitudes, there was tremendous resistance. There were supporters, to be sure, but I soon learned that my job was first one of education to inform and advocate to the public, as well as for me to operate in this new theatrical arena—small town politics.  It wasn’t until many months later that the Deputy Under Secretary of the USDA toured through town politely listening to the FEMA recovery projects from the leaders that were present (mostly infrastructure upgrades) that my elevator pitch received a jolt of validity.  He became animated in his approval of “projects like these!” and people started to really listen.   

Our dear friend Dan helping to fill the dumpster in the first round of demos at the Grange Hall. Those bathrooms had to go!

I searched for a place for this center relentlessly.  It was my vision to have it downtown in the reconstructed flood zone, but flood mitigation and insurance alone rendered the art center completely unsustainable.  I looked farther afield, but it eventually came to us. Doing play readings at the local Grange Hall for years had introduced us to those taking care of the building.  We had even suggested at one point to rewire the whole building in exchange for guaranteed time in the building to produce our productions (the lights we wanted to plug in would have burned this humble but wonderful building to the ground).  That arrangement didn’t suit them, but I believe it planted a seed that one of the Grange members watered in their conversation of dissolution.  They came to us with the opportunity to steward the building to keep it in public use.  It needed every upgrade you could imagine, but we couldn’t say no to this unexpected gift.  It didn’t look like what we thought it would in 2011, but all the core elements are present in this bourgeoning project.  One day I would love the full vision, but for now staying the course on this dream takes on its current chapter.    To be continued…

Our awesome neighbor Matt and my husband (also awesome) standing in "the cellar" contemplating their next dismantling strategy of what's left of the second floor. On the right is the front door with the sun beaming in, on the left the door to the gallery/dining/classroom/intimate performance space. This 3 story hollow will be (respectively going up) the lower lobby, the upper lobby (or Front Of House), and at some point in the future, our lighting booth (I just can't stop dreaming!)


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