When the town celebrates the new Hopkinton Center for the Arts at the November 7 gala, it will be the fulfillment of a vision begun nearly two decades ago, when a group of Hopkinton people devoted to the arts approached the town with a bold idea.
A group called the Hopkinton Artists Association had been meeting during the 1990s at Diane Strazzula’s house, hatching a dream for a vibrant arts center in town. The artists often had to go to Southborough to find galleries where they could paint.
“We had a lot of ideas and we wanted to figure a way to make it work,” recalled Carol Mecagni, a potter and Hopkinton High School art teacher who was part of the group. “All of us would go out to do some research during the week and we’d share our ideas at the next meeting. It was a very exciting time.”
In 1996, the right moment arrived. The town had purchased the Terry farm on Hayden Rowe Street for a new high school, elementary school, parking lots and other uses. The deal included an antique 1400-square-foot farmhouse, a decaying 3800-square foot dairy barn and other smaller buildings. While the structures were old, the arts supporters, who now called themselves the Cultural Arts Alliance, saw many possibilities. They asked if the buildings and a total of 1.3 acres of land could be developed into a place for the arts.
The town agreed, and in 1997 the CAA became a nonprofit entity to promote art exhibits, classes and events. Its vision was to restore the barn on the property and build more classrooms and spaces for performances and exhibits.
“We’re a very small arts center with very big ideas,” CAA Board Chairman Dora Garabedian told the press in 1998, comparing the vision to Tanglewood in western Massachusetts.
The early years were difficult, but some early grants and lots of volunteer work helped make improvements possible. The center received $250,000 in Community Preservation Act funding early on.
“Partnerships were very important to us,” said Deb Phelan, who served as the CAA’s executive director from 2002 to 2006. “We worked with the historical society on a historic house tour; and with the HPTA on the haunted house and some special events when the Harry Potter books came out. We did a lot of small things that made us more visible.”
Beginning in 2007 the farmhouse was stabilized and transformed into classrooms, offices, galleries and storage space. The barn got a new foundation; granite slabs from the original foundation were arranged on the lawn as seating for an amphitheater.
Still, the center was not big enough for everything the CAA hoped to offer the community. Space in the farmhouse was limited and the barn had a dirt floor and no insulation, heat or utilities. So by 2010, with limited resources, the CAA was at a crossroads.
It was about that time that Enter Stage Left Theater (ESL), a local theater group, was also at a crossroads. Founded by Kelly Grill (now HCA Executive Director), Paul Champlin and Mary Scarlata Rowe, ESL had been operating locally for six years and had grown from offering two or three classes per week to 10 classes, and from three productions per year to 12 or more. ESL had plenty of volunteers and participants but no money to build its own space.
“We were bursting at the seams at the storefront we were renting downtown,” recalled Grill. “We were having shows with 100 kids in them. The time was right to make something happen.”
So in 2010, ESL moved to the property to share resources and collaborate with the CAA. The two groups became the HCA a year later. Kris Waldman, the executive director of the CAA and visual artist, took on the role of Artistic Director of the HCA; Grill became Executive Director. They share leadership and vision for the organization and have the perfect partnership of skills and passion for the arts. ESL retained its name and 501 c3 status and became the resident theater troupe of the HCA.
This partnership not only combined local talent and resources but also made it possible for the arts and cultural activities to flourish here -- far more than what the two organizations could have done on their own. The community noticed, and started focusing on the possibilities.
“Collaboration between artists brings wonderful things,” said Grill. “We have been a much stronger organization together.”
A big funding breakthrough came in 2011, when the Hopkinton Community Endowment (HCE), a 501-3c Hopkinton-based organization, earmarked the HCA as a primary focus for financial support and project collaboration. The Endowment would ultimately channel approximately $500,000 from private donations to the HCA. Now, it also offered to head up a capital campaign to expand the HCA’s facilities, offering considerable experience in fundraising and a larger community presence. The New England Center for Performing Arts also gave a $247,000 grant.
In 2012 the Town of Hopkinton and the HCA and HCE signed a 20-year lease agreement for the property, giving HCA use of the property for $1 per year so long as it continued to use it “for a purpose that enriches the lives of Hopkinton residents and others by offering community programming and activities that primarily serve a diverse range of individuals.”
The most dramatic improvements began in 2013. The barn was totally overhauled with a new roof, cupola, frame, siding, windows, doorways and floor. The original post and beam elements stayed, but a second story was created to add a multipurpose room. The underground drainage system in the adjacent road was enlarged and drainage structures installed on site.
Two windfalls in spring 2014 gave the arts center a tremendous push forward. A $450,000 grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council enabled the next phase of the project to begin – on what would be the most visible phase of the expansion. Shortly on the heels of that announcement, the HCA received $100,000 more from Hopkinton residents Kevin and Sandra Delbridge, for whom the new performance center is named. “By helping to fund projects like this one, the Cultural Council and the Delbridges are reaffirming that centers like ours do so much to strengthen communities,” Grill said at the time.
Over the past year the HCA has transformed the barn's interior spaces to create a Learning Center and replaced the two outer buildings with a new multipurpose Performance Center that shares a lobby/gallery area with the Learning Center. A porch, catering kitchen and restrooms are also part of the new structure.
Support from the town and local businesses made the new HCA a true public/private venture. Along with the 20-year lease, the town has contributed additional CPA and ADA funds. The School Department has allowed workers to access the construction site through school property and has agreed to let HCA patrons use its parking lots when school is not in session. A local company, Solect Energy, donated an extensive solar panel system and installed it for free on the south-facing roof of the complex. Several local businesses – most notably Scott Richardson of Gorman Richardson, Lewis Architects and Brian Gassett of Gassett Building Inc. -- donated materials and labor to the project at free or reduced rates.
The HCA’s “Founding Mothers” are proud of how their vision has been fulfilled. “I never thought it would be like this,” said Mecagni. “We are lucky that some very dedicated people got involved in the project to take our vision and move it forward. It’s a unique space.”
Continued support from the community will help the HCA finish paying for this project. Approximately $200,000 more is needed. To donate please visit hopartscenter.org.