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The Arts

A new year, a new name

Latchis Arts reflects the main project of the nonprofit that has purchased and preserved the historic theater

BRATTLEBORO—When the Brattleboro Arts Initiative (BAI) started in 1998, its primary mission was developing a thriving arts scene in the Brattleboro area.

But when BAI took ownership of the Latchis Theatre and Hotel in 2003, running and maintaining the historic 1938 complex on Main Street immediately took precedence.

Eight years later, the organization says it makes sense to take the name of what had become its main priority.

So now, BAI has renamed itself Latchis Arts.

The organization commissioned Jeff Woodward of Woodward Design in Guilford to create the new logo, which pays homage to the building’s Art Deco design.

“We think it will identify us by what we do,” said managing director Gail Nunziata. “Surprisingly enough, people weren’t quite sure what BAI was about.”

Greater public awareness of the landmark theater and hotel’s nonprofit parent is especially timely in the context of what 2011 has brought to the Latchis and to Brattleboro. In the wake of the Brooks House fire and flooding by Tropical Storm Irene, the downtown area has seen significant economic challenges.

For the Latchis, Irene’s flooding led to hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage to the lower levels of the theater and hotel, as well as to its heating and electrical system. It forced the complex to close for nearly two months.

Nunziata said that Latchis Arts has received loan money and insurance settlements to move forward, but not enough to cover all damage, as well as the lost revenues, from the storm.

“Unfortunately, the new normal for us is to use the proceeds from the theater and the hotel to pay off our debts, rather than have more money available for renovations and upgrades,” she said.

But she said the theater is working on “hazard mitigation,” to prevent a replay if there is another significant flood.

The newly replaced electrical panels have been moved upstairs from the basement to the stage area, which escaped the flooding.

Nunziata also said the theater is rapidly filling its card for 2012.

There are the perennials, such as the Women’s Film Festival, the collegiate a cappella concert in February, the New England Center for Circus Arts’ circus spectacular in March, and the 2012-13 season of the Metropolitan Opera Live in HD beginning next fall.

But there are new additions, such as the return of the Slow Living Summit during the Strolling of the Heifers, the Marlboro College Graduate Center’s commencement ceremony, and assorted conferences and presentations.

“We’ve got something for everyone,” she said.

Big decision

Nunziata said that it was critical that BAI seized the opportunity in 2003 to buy the Latchis.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to ensure that this town kept the Latchis preserved as a magnet for the arts,” she said. “Theaters like the Latchis matter culturally, architectually, and economically to a community. No one wanted to consider the alternatives of what Brattleboro would be like without the Latchis.”

Having four movie screens and three stages — including the 750-seat main theater — available for community events has been important to the town’s art scene. But running a downtown theater and hotel is tough in a good economy, and has been even tougher in the current recession.

“We could use a few more people going out to the movies, or visitors staying in the hotel,” Nunziata said. “That will not only help us recover our losses, but it will contribute to the local economy.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #132 (Wednesday, December 21, 2011).

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