PUTNEY—Next Stage Arts Project is in the midst of a $1.5 million renovation project, transforming the former United Church of Putney into a modern, fully-accessible performing arts center.
The renovations got a boost last week when the nonprofit was selected as one of 27 projects around Vermont to receive Downtown and Village Tax Center tax credits amounting to nearly $24,000.
The tax credits, administered by the state’s Downtown Program, targets state funding to support efficient use of land and resources in village centers and downtown areas. Putney is one of 150 community centers that are in the program, which gives them priority consideration on state grants and tax incentives.
It may be a small amount of money, but every bit of help is appreciated, said Next Stage Executive Director Maria Basescu during a recent interview.
The biggest chunk of money for the renovations came last year, when Next Stage received a $370,000 grant from ArtPlace America, one of the biggest awards handed out by that organization. An ongoing capital fundraising campaign, which has raised more than $900,000 so far, is taking care of the rest.
Basescu said the first stage of renovations — basic building improvements. safety upgrades, and performance space improvements — got done over the last couple of years. Now, Next Stage is in the most labor-intensive stage.
After closing the theater space in May, the building was gutted.
The first floor is getting new community rooms and a kitchen. An addition to the rear of the building provides more space for both Next Stage and the Putney Historical Society, the owner of the 1841 former church.
On the second floor, there will be new seating and lighting, as well as an improved sound system, for the 160-seat theater. The historic tin ceiling will also be restored.
Both floors will be connected by a new elevator, with upgraded electrical wiring throughout the building.
GPI Construction of Brattleboro has been the main contractor. “They’ve been great to work with,” said Basescu. “They know historic preservation.”
Basescu says things have proceeding on schedule so far, which makes her optimistic that the theater will be ready to reopen in December.
In the meantime, Next Stage has still been producing and presenting shows, even though its home theater is temporarily a construction zone. Basescu singled out the general cooperation of other arts venues, such as the Hooker-Dunham Theater and the Vermont Jazz Center in Brattleboro, Popolo in Bellows Falls, and the Putney School’s Currier Center.
“There’s no competition between the venues in this area,” she said. “All of them recognize that a rising tide lifts all boats.”
She said the fundamental difference between Next Stage and other arts organizations such as Yellow Barn in Putney or the Vermont Jazz Center is that “they are artist-driven. We’re a presenting organization, and we have a lot of different artists involved.”
There will still be finish work — such as painting, refinishing the floors, completing the new ticket booth — to be done inside the old church after December, Basescu said, but she says that work can take place while the theater is open.
Basescu said about $200,000 is still needed to complete the renovations, and she is reaching out to donors large and small.