Vermont Arts Council

A Classic(al) Example

The features read like a wish list. Start with rehearsal spaces for performance groups. Add a percussion studio, a recital hall within the music education building, and a performance-quality auditorium that seats 224. A green room? Adjacent. There are fourteen teaching studios and a large multi-use classroom for programs and community music projects. Considerations have been made throughout for quality acoustics and physical accessibility. There’s more: A music library, archive, and inventory of instruments. A designated faculty lounge and work area and a welcoming space for families and students. Convenient parking.

This is the new home of the Brattleboro Music Center (BMC). The organization relocated to the space in July 2017. In less than 10 months’ time, architects and contractors transformed an existing building into a 10,500-square-foot music education center and constructed a 4,400 square-foot auditorium – on budget and ahead of schedule.

Are you sitting down? The construction of both new buildings is entirely paid for and the organization carries no debt. Executive Director Mary Greene told us more.

Arts Council: New spaces don’t just show up. What were the unseen efforts in the creation of the new Center over time? How did the organizers know this was a “Go!” in Brattleboro?

Mary Greene: We began our campaign with a professional analysis of our readiness and fundraising capacity. That analysis held true throughout our winding, challenging, 10-year journey which began in 2008 — just as the recession hit. Despite the economic forecast, we forged ahead with fundraising until 2011 when Tropical Storm Irene slammed into Brattleboro. We were forced to abandon plans to build downtown adjacent to the Whetstone Brook. It was fortuitous that we discovered the abandoned school property. That is where the BMC stands today, and it turned out to be a perfect setting for our community’s music center.

The major leap of faith came as we had to decide to go ahead with the simultaneous construction of our performance auditorium and education building. We knew that we would have one opportunity for major savings by going ahead with both buildings. And we made the choice to make it happen.

Arts Council: What is going on now that lets you know this is a success?

Mary Greene: As I write this note we are in the midst of a season of music-making which includes examples of all the many uses we had hoped to make possible  — music lessons and classes, choir rehearsals, orchestra rehearsals, student recitals, faculty recitals, a book launch, a CD release party, and world class chamber music concerts. We have also been delighted to partner with the Vermont Jazz Center and to host the local high school honors recitals, community benefit concerts, and provide space for community groups to meet and rehearse.

Arts Council: There are a number of new arts facilities in Vermont. What’s your take?

Mary Greene: It feels as though art and music making in Vermont are as ubiquitous as maple syrup and snow! Vermonters care deeply about our communities and the wealth of cultural experiences they support; arts are an essential component of vibrant healthy towns. Artistic expression is fundamental to us as humans. We support what enriches our lives – and our community arts organizations deserve appropriate facilities.

Our campaign has been inspired by the following quote from Hannah Arendt: “No activity can become excellent if the world does not provide a proper space for its exercise.”

Arts Council: If you had to offer a piece of advice for organizations considering building, what would it be?

Mary Greene: Don’t give up. Our long-held dream came to reality with the opening of our new campus as we celebrated our 65th season. Our “Make a Place for Music” campaign has been underway for more than a decade now, and as we work to complete our fundraising, we continue to find that there is remarkable generosity surrounding the BMC and our community.

In practical terms, let me offer a few thoughts :

  • Leadership starts at the top. Make sure your board is able to provide the work, wisdom, and wealth you’ll need throughout the building process and that your director is capable of managing the additional responsibilities that come with a construction project and a capital campaign
  • Go for the gold. To chair your campaign, recruit the most dedicated, respected volunteer in your community and surround that person with hard-working volunteers who not only believe in the mission and your project but are also trained and willing to ask for gifts
  • Trust in the goodness of people. There will be disappointments along the way; that’s to be expected. But there will be many who come through for your organization because they believe so strongly in what you do, and a few will even take your breath away with their generosity

The Brattleboro Music Center is one the Council’s twenty-seven Arts Partners.

— top left photo by Ryan Bent

— compiled by Susan McDowell

read other featured stories