Ten Berkshire sites to share Massachusetts Cultural Council Facilities Fund grant

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Ten Berkshire cultural sites are set to share nearly $2.5 million in state funding for facility improvements, historic preservation and environmental upgrades.

The largest awards from the 2015 Massachusetts Cultural Council Facilities Fund include $600,000 to the Stockbridge Library, $500,000 to Saint James Place in Great Barrington, a nonprofit formed to restore two historic church buildings for use as a year-round cultural arts center.

Other major grants went to MCLA in North Adams, the Berkshire Theatre Group, the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge and Mass MoCA in North Adams.

State funding has not yet been released for the grants, the Cultural Council's Project Director Jay Paget cautioned. Organizations awarded grants based on "good stewardship of their facilities" were notified within the past two weeks, but official release of the money through a capital bond bill is pending, he explained.

Typically, the grants — which requires a dollar-by-dollar match — are distributed through a contract between the state Department of Administration & Finance and Mass Development, the state's finance and development authority which works with businesses, nonprofits, local, state, and federal officials and agencies to strengthen the state economy.

For the Stockbridge Library Association and its Historical Museum & Archives, the $600,000 grant toward its $3.5 million renovation project is designated to implement handicap-accessibility, help resolve mechanical and structural code issues, and develop underutilized space to better display and preserve the library's historical collection.

"We are truly honored that the panel recognized the importance of this project to the cultural landscape of Stockbridge and the Berkshires as a whole," Library Association Director Katherine O'Neil stated. "This renovation will expand our accessibility to everyone, upgrade our technology, and preserve the Library, Museum & Archives as a vital community center and keeper of our rich shared history."

The $500,000 state grant to Saint James Place is to support restoration of the sanctuary and parish house of the former St. James Episcopal Church in Great Barrington. The project began in 2011, three years after the rear facade of the 1857 church collapsed, threatening a demolition of the structure.

After the congregation regrouped and moved to Crissey Farm as Grace Church, residents Sally and Fred Harris formed a secular, nonprofit organization to create 17,000 square feet of rehearsal, performance and reception spaces as a year-round facility to host local artistic and civil groups, as well as the future, permanent home of the People's Pantry. The project is expected to be completed in the spring of 2016, according to the organization's website.

Renovation, including stage expansion and accessibility upgrades to MCLA's Church Street Center, will be aided by the Cultural Council's $440,000 grant. The center, a former synagogue, is the hub of the college's Fine and Performing Arts Department. It includes an auditorium and social hall for cultural events and ceremonies organized by the college and the community.

The Berkshire Theatre Group, which includes the Colonial Theatre and two stages in Stockbridge, is in line for $360,000 to convert the 1871 Thaddeus Clapp House at 74 Wendell Avenue in Pittsfield — a former bed and breakfast that closed in 2011 — and parts of the Collins House in Stockbridge, former Berkshire Theatre Festival administrative headquarters, into long-term housing for as many as 65 seasonal staff members.

For the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge, founded in 1934, the $270,000 award will help renovate the Center House, built in the 1770s, as an energy-efficient, multi-use facility with educational and meeting spaces.

According to Executive Director Michael Beck, the pending award already has generated major pledges from donors for the project expected to begin very soon.

Board Chairman Matthew Larkin stated that the addition of an exhibition space devoted to botanical, landscape and natural history art will enhance the visitor experience "within the context of our mission of education and expanding awareness of natural beauty. The teaching kitchen will allow us to extend our programming in food preparation and preserving, which has become so timely with the farm to table movement."

Other grants included:

• $170,000 to Mass MoCA in North Adams for roof repairs and upgrades to heating and air conditioning systems, sound and lighting.

• $50,000 to the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington to replace obsolete lighting and projection equipment, repair the theater steps, install an automatic door and improve the backstage area.

• $40,000 to the West Stockbridge Historical Society for accessibility improvements as well as building repairs and renovation.

• $35,000 to Ventfort Hall in Lenox to develop a historic building master and maintenance plan and a fund-raising strategy to support the restoration of the Gilded Age Museum and to provide new equipment.

• $30,000 to Dewey Memorial Hall in Sheffield to aid the cultural and economic revitalization of the town center through the arts. The award for the 1887 building will fund new heating and air conditioning, insulation and lighting equipment.

The Cultural Council Facilities Fund was set up in 2006 by state lawmakers to offer capital, feasibility, technical assistance, and systems replacement grants for eligible nonprofits engaged in the arts, humanities, or interpretive sciences. It has awarded more than $55 million in grants statewide.

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.

Cultural Council Grants . . .

The following Berkshire organizations are sharing $2,495,000 in state grants through the Massachusetts Cultural Council Facilities Fund for renovation projects, historic preservation, building adaptation, systems upgrades and accessibility improvements. Grants require a dollar-for-dollar match and the state funding is still awaiting formal release.

— Stockbridge Library Association, $600,000.

— Saint James Place, Great Barrington, $500,000.

— MCLA, North Adams, $440,000.

— Berkshire Theatre Group, Pittsfield and Stockbridge, $360,000.

— Berkshire Botanical Garden, Stockbridge, $270,000.

— Mass MoCA, North Adams, $170,000.

— Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, Great Barrington, $50,000.

— West Stockbridge Historical Society, $40,000.

— Ventfort Hall Association, Lenox, $35,000.

— Dewey Memorial Hall, Sheffield, $30,000.

Source: Massachusetts Cultural Council (www.massculturalcouncil.org)


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