The Memorial Hall Association (MHA) is partnering with the Town of Shelburne to launch a 3-year, $1.2 million Capital Campaign to fully renovate our beloved, historic 400-seat theater on the 2nd floor of Memorial Hall.
We are currently engaged in the “quiet phase” of the Campaign – securing grants and sponsorship from lead donors. We were recently awarded a $187,000 matching grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s Cultural Facilities program. We will launch the “public phase” of the Campaign soon, and want you to join us! Watch this space for details.
Below is a Greenfield Recorder article from 7/23/2023 with more information on the Campaign.
SHELBURNE — In partnership with the town, the Memorial Hall Association’s board of directors has launched a three-phase $1.2 million campaign to renovate the historic 400-seat theater.
Located on Town Hall’s second floor, the theater serves as a civic and cultural center for the region. For the past three years, Memorial Hall theater has been closed due to the pandemic.
“We believe this reopening must also be a moment to update our 19th-century Town Hall theater for the 21st century (while maintaining its historic charm) to make it a venue capable of supporting professional cultural performances,” the board of directors wrote in a statement.
The Memorial Hall Association has provided a mix of local cultural performances for 25 years, but efforts to attract professional theater and music acts floundered due to the dilapidated state of the seating, lack of backstage bathrooms for performers, and lack of modern lighting, sound and stage equipment.
The town and the Memorial Hall Association hired architect Jeremy Coleman and commissioned a $10,000 feasibility study to consider comprehensive renovations to the theater in 2019. That study details the many components needed to refurbish the theater, which — other than an elevator and a heating, ventilation and air conditioning system — has not seen significant upgrades since the 1920s. The study outlines the need for new flooring and seats, a backstage green room with a bathroom for performers, a stage lift for accessibility, a fireproof stage curtain, lighting and sound equipment, and historic finishes for the hall and lobby.
Over the past several years, Shelburne voters appropriated $150,000 to reinforce a capital campaign to renovate the Memorial Hall theater. The town also allocated $115,000 in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to repair the elevator, which needed a complete electronic rebuild after 25 years in operation.
In 2022, the Memorial Hall Association and the town managed to secure a Massachusetts Cultural Council Cultural Facilities matching grant for $187,000. These funds, which total $452,000, comprise the public investment underpinning for the $1.2 million capital campaign.
The public campaign is still in its early stages, but the association plans to do renovations in three phases. Phase 1 includes replacing the elevator and launching a $300,000 “Name a Seat” campaign, where donors will be recognized with their name on a theater seat. Phase 2 includes replacing the flooring and seating and building a green room. Phase 3 includes replacing the HVAC system and upgrading equipment in the theater.
Memorial Hall was constructed in 1897, at a cost of $15,000 to serve as Shelburne’s Town Hall. Municipal offices continue to be located on the first floor today.
During the 1930s, the town leased the theater to Carl Nilman, who converted Memorial Hall into a commercial movie theater. Nilman replaced the wooden folding chairs with the padded seats that exist today.
“The seats have held up remarkably well for the length of time we have had them,” said Memorial Hall Association President Jim Kessler.
One of the major projects the association plans to undertake is replacing the century-old chairs, which will also mean replacing the floor the chairs are attached to.
In 1995, Shelburne and Buckland secured a $1 million Community Development Block Grant and used $160,000 to install an elevator in Memorial Hall, making the theater useable again after it sat vacant for three decades following the movie theater’s closure. The Memorial Hall Association was subsequently incorporated in 1996.
In 1998, the association raised $100,000 from local donors to install an HVAC system, allowing the theater to be used year-round rather than just for occasional Pothole Pictures films, folk concerts and opera performances. The association plans to bring programming back to the theater this year, following the pandemic-induced hiatus.
“Public buildings need a community of stewards and a persisting utility to attract the investment needed to carry them forward into the next generation,” the Memorial Hall Association’s board of directors said in a statement. “Memorial Hall’s historic theater is at that crossroads.”
The Memorial Hall Association is also looking for volunteers to help organize fundraising events and to help with the capital campaign.