Monday, November 14, 2011

Say Hello to Johnson Hall

Johnson Hall
280 Water Street, Gardiner, ME 

"Say Hello" is a series of posts on the ArtWalk Gardiner blog where we meet local businesses who support the ArtWalk by providing a venue for artists to display their work and greet the public. In our third installment, we talk with Judy Lloyd, Executive Director of Johnson Hall.

Hours: Usually 10-6, Mon-Fri. Also open for shows

Tell us about Johnson Hall:Johnson Hall (or Johnson Hall Opera House) is a wonderful brick, Italianate structure built in 1864 in the heart of downtown Gardiner to provide a place for large gatherings and entertainment. It is the oldest operating theater in Maine, and one of few in the country built before 1900 still presenting entertainment. Until 1929, its stage was alive with plays, music, vaudeville, and burlesque (suitable for ladies!), and the hall also hosted banquets and social events.  It was a prominent and popular community asset, and people arrived here from as far away as Boston. But times changed. From 1930 to the 1950s, it operated as a movie palace, and the first floor housed retail stores. Times changed again, Gardiner entered a period of economic decline, the movie theater closed, and the upstairs was used for storage and a few performances of community theater. The theater is now dark, but its ambience and near-perfect acoustics inspired the dream of a renaissance.  In 1989, five people bought the building, and later transferred ownership to a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Johnson Hall, Inc., whose board raised $250,000 for initial renovations.

JH-interior, photo: Dan Brewer

In 1990-92, the first floor was renovated into an accessible 110-seat performance space, with a small lobby, office, and restrooms.  Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center operates arts programs for all ages, all year round. It presents live professional music, theater and dance performances; theater and art camps for children; teen band shows; workshops and classes for children and adults.  Johnson Hall collaborates with the Boys & Girls Club and the local schools to bring arts and theater programs to children of all ages and backgrounds in Gardiner and surrounding towns; works with community organizations to present a summer festival; and provides space for community classes, groups, and meetings.  It is in use over 250 days a year, and is managed by a full-time executive director and a part-time bookkeeper and an artistic consultant.  Johnson Hall brings about 5,000 people a year into Gardiner.  The Americans for the Arts report that each audience member spends an average of $27 on other items in addition to tickets—restaurant meals, gas, lodging, mementos, etc.  This helps the local economy.

Johnson Hall is highly committed to the economic and cultural well-being of the city and region, and we believe the renovation of the Hall will be an even larger boost to the regional economy and to historic preservation and cultural enrichment.  The upper two floors are now unheated, rough space.  In 2006, the organization joined with the City of Gardiner, the Gardiner Board of Trade and Gardiner Main Street to commission a feasibility study and Master Plan for renovation of the entire building into a 360-seat theater and conference center, with expanded lobbies, dressing rooms, and meeting rooms.  Many more people will visit the area when the theater is renovated and operating, with a higher level of nationally-known performers and small conferences. 

The mission of the Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center is to enrich people’s lives in the Southern Kennebec Valley and beyond by offering creative, educational, and performing arts programs; preserving an historic building; providing a community gathering-place; and serving as a catalyst for cultural and economic growth. Staff conduct tours of the historic building at 280 Water Street, Gardiner, during regular hours (M-F, 10-5).  The 2011 season sponsor is The Bank of Maine. Current programs are available at the website,  The phone number is 207-582-7144.

How long have you been participating as a venue for ArtWalk Gardiner? 
Since the beginning.

What do you enjoy most about being a part of ArtWalk Gardiner? 
It’s a fun, creative atmosphere that is good for everyone who participates.  Part of our mission is to encourage creative events, and we love having artists here.  Often, we keep their artwork up for a month or so, and that looks very nice in our lobby, and sometimes helps them sell more artwork.

Favorite memory or stand-out moment of an ArtWalk Gardiner event at your business: 
Student art show artist, Tamera Caron, during May 2011 ArtWalk Gardiner.
We enjoyed hosting the students of SAD 11 for their K-12 art show in May, 2011, and bringing many new people (parents and friends of students) into the downtown who probably would not have attended an ArtWalk otherwise.

Say hello and like them on Facebook, too!

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