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April 4, 2018

Snow Pond Center for the Arts continues to develop its mission

Christa Johnson, left, director of development at Snow Pond Center for the Arts, and executive director John Wiggin, say projects on the Sidney campus will help boost the area economy. Alumni Hall, the campus indoor auditorium, is directly behind them.

SIDNEY — A major renovation to the historic Bowl in the Pines outdoor amphitheater at the Snow Pond Center for the Arts is expected to be an economic boost for the area.

But that work is only one part of what’s been going on at the 175-acre campus on Route 23.

Since the Snow Pond Center for the Arts rolled out a five-year plan to add revenue and community engagement in 2012, a lot has changed at the campus that was once only inhabited in the summer by the New England Music Camp.

The campus’ rustic buildings were renovated and winterized for the Snow Pond Arts Academy charter school, which is in its second school year.

An addition was added to the Alumni Hall auditorium and a 6,000-square-foot learning center opened on the campus this past fall.

The Augusta Symphony, the arts center’s Community Music School and others keep the 300-seat Alumni Hall busy nearly every night, said Christine Durgin, director of community relations.

The historic lodge on the campus, closer to the lake, is not only the school cafeteria, but is also rented out for events and hosts community meetings and more.

When the Arts Academy students leave in the afternoon, buses pull up with area elementary and middle-school students who take part in the afterschool program that’s held in the new Learning Center.

And tucked in the woods at the north end of the campus, the historic outdoor Bowl in the Pines, once renovated, will become one of the premier outdoor venues in New England.

“It’s exciting for me that the things we said we were going to do four, five years ago, we’re doing,” said Durgin as she gave a tour of the campus last week. 

More than just a camp

Photo / Maureen Milliken
The learning center, foreground, and an addition to Alumni Hall, back, are two projects at Snow Pond Center in Sidney.

The New England Camp began as the Eastern Music Camp in 1930, but was closed by the Great Depression. In 1937, Paul Wiggin, music director of Cony High School in Augusta, and his wife, Nina, took over the camp.

The camp flourished over the decades, attracting talented young musicians, as well as music teachers, from around the country.

In 2010 when John Wiggin, grandson of the founder, took over as executive director with his wife, Kim, a movement began to expand what the camp had to offer. That now includes programs like the Snow Pond Music Festival, an Adult Music Camp, the Summer Concert Series and the Community Music School.

Snow Pond Academy for the Arts now has about 140 students from 53 towns.

The 6,000-square-foot $1 million learning center, which opened in the fall, was a big step forward for the school, Durgin said.

Besides classrooms, the center has storage for the huge variety of musical instruments stored on site — there are more than 60 pianos alone on campus — and practice rooms, study areas and areas for students to relax.

A $130,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will allow the school to buy and install technology and train staff for a distance learning program that will operate out of the new building.

Bowl renovation an economic move

Photo / Maureen Milliken
Renovation to Bowl in the Pines at Snow Pond Center for the Arts will allow more options for musical performances.

But the biggest move, as far as impact goes, is the Bowl in the Pines renovation, school officials said.

The stage, surrounded by woods on three sides and backed by Messalonskee, was the biggest outdoor amphitheater on the east coast when it was built in 1930, and still considered one of the country’s largest outdoor music venues, school officials said.

Snow Pond officials say the upgrade, which will cost $675,000, is necessary to create more visibility for the music camp, arts center and school, as well as to provide revenue for scholarship and financial aid programs. But it is also expected to be an economic boon for the Belgrade Lakes region, which includes several towns, including Sidney, clustered around the lakes north of Augusta.

The organization expects concerts to eventually bring an estimated $300,000 per event in revenue to area businesses.

The project won’t be completed this summer, but the arts center still plans to hold seven or eight ticketed events and 12 free concerts at the Bowl, up from three ticketed events and 11 free concerts last summer.

While many nationally renowned musicians have played on the stage, when Fab Four, a Beatles tribute band, plays at the Bowl on Sept. 5, it will be the largest show the venue has accommodated as far as scope of audience appeal, said Christa Johnson, director of development. She said most of the renovation work is being done this fall, and the venue should be fully ready for larger-scale concerts next year in 2019.

The Bowl accommodates an audience of about 2,000, in both fixed seating for 400, and on the lawn, where those attending often bring blankets and picnic baskets. But Johnson said the audience capacity will grow as parking, ambient lighting, signs and more is added. Once the renovations are done, it will accommodate about 6,000. 

The stage has been stabilized with concrete, but work left to be done includes extending the stage out eight feet with new decking, steel supports for sound and lighting, so national touring acts can use it, as well as landscaping and other elements.

Central Maine Power Co. is also helping with a major electrical upgrade that includes three-phase power to support audio-visual needs for the stage, as well as lighting in the parking lot and audience areas.

Durgin said that Snow Pond uses local vendors as often as possible for supplies and construction. Hammond Lumber of Belgrade, Peachey Builders of Augusta and Bryan O. Bacon Excavation of Sidney have all done work on the Bowl project.

Snow Pond has created a task force of local public safety and town officials, as well as business owners that will focus on safety, traffic and parking, and the scale and type of events to make sure that it fits with the community, Johnson said.

Wiggin, the executive director, said the investment in the Bowl renovation is relatively modest compared to the benefits it will provide. 

“A lot of our emphasis up until now has been on the educational component and creating an infrastructure,” he said. “The emphasis going forward is going to include a little more of quality of place emphasis.”

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