The Elm: Waterville’s newest arts venue

This past Thursday, the Elm, an events venue described on its website as “Central Maine’s Premiere Destination for Events and Live Music” held its grand opening. Located at 21 College Avenue, just a short walk away from Main Street, the Elm follows in the footsteps of other well-known local arts organizations such as the Waterville Opera House and Common Street Arts in making Waterville a destination for all things culture. The Echo sat down with the Elm’s owner and local businessman Bill Mitchell to talk about the opening and the hopes he has for the future.

“For several years, there’s been talk around Waterville for the need for event space,” Mitchell said to the Echo. “Although there are a couple of other venues that do host events, I wanted to create a different experience for people.”

Mitchell’s inspiration for the Elm is rooted in the history of the building itself. According to Mitchell, it used to house the Waterville branch of the American Legion, a nationwide organization of war veterans. It was built soon after World War II, and the Waterville community used the space to celebrate the end of the war.

“There was a lot of really positive energy in that generation known as ‘The Greatest Generation’,” Mitchell stated of post-war Waterville. “They did some amazing things. This was the venue that was used after the war for the community to come together and celebrate. So I thought it would be very appropriate to bring that back.”

 Mitchell hopes to recreate this positive energy with the opening of the Elm and give back to the Waterville community in the same way the American Legion did. He recalls his parents attending all different kinds of events in the building during the 50s and 60s, from dinners to concerts to dances, and plans to open up the venue for a variety of different events. This past Saturday, the Elm welcomed the internationally renowned Rolling Stones tribute band Satisfaction to their stage—who, unsurprisingly, played to a full house.

“We’re starting to get really serious about programming,” Mitchell said, gesturing at the space around him. “As you can imagine, renovating a building like this has been an extensive undertaking. At the same time, starting a new business, an event center from scratch, there’s a lot to that. It’s very complicated. The next phase, now that construction is over, is programming for 2019 and 2020.”

As the new kid on the block of the Waterville arts scene, Mitchell says the Elm will be working closely with other local organizations to figure out scheduling.

“Being a local businessperson, I’ve forged some really great relationships with the Waterville Opera House, which is a member organization of WatervilleCreates!, as are others,” Mitchell said. “We’ve been having ongoing discussions on how to collaborate on events rather than be competing against each other for the greater good of the revitalization that’s taking place in Waterville. So we will all be working together to try and collaborate and coordinate schedules as much as possible.”

Mitchell’s community involvement doesn’t end there. The Elm will be hosting the Sukeforth Family Festival of Trees, a fundraiser run by a well known local family that has previously raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for local nonprofits such as Hospice Volunteers of Waterville Area and Spectrum Generation’s Meals on Wheels Program. Mitchell also wants to give back to the community by establishing a program for Colby students to give local children music lessons.

“I’m fortunate to have a very good relationship with Colby. So we’ve been talking with and having conversations with Elizabeth Jabar [Director of Civic Engagement and Community Partnerships]. We’ve been talking about recruiting Colby student musicians to collaborate with the Waterville Boys and Girls Club to give free music lessons to boys and girls. I’m pretty confident that we are going to pull together a program and initiate that.”

Beyond the music program, Mitchell also wants college students to attend the Elm’s events. From comedy to karaoke to battle of the bands, Mitchell is working on programming that will appeal to Colby College students and get them to venture downtown.

“I think we can really come up with an extensive, exciting portfolio of events that will be appealing to a broad base. There’s a lot of positive energy within the community. People have been blown away by the look and feel of the space. It’s great.”

Mitchell’s true passion, however, lies in giving back to the city that he grew up in.

“I’m most excited about the impact that this potentially has on the economics of Waterville and supporting the revitalization that has been spearheaded by David Greene and Colby. I see this as a way to boost the Waterville economy like so many other institutions do — Waterville Opera House, Common Street Arts, the new museum and film center, the new hotel — and now, an event center. When you put all that together, each will have a draw, and The Elm will be a part of improving the economics of Waterville for the greater good of us all.”

For more information on The Elm and its programming, visit theelmme.com.

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