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.
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.
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.
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…