Vision comes together for Arts and Inovation Center

“Arts and Innovation” is one of a number of diverse initiatives making up Colby’s recently announced campaign, Dare Northward. Central to this initiative is the plan to build an extensive performing arts center over the current Mary Low Lot. “The idea for a performing arts center at Colby has really been around for the better part of a decade. It’s a longstanding priority programmatically,” Vice President of Planning Brian Clark said.

Runnals, the current home of performing arts at Colby, lacks appropriate facilities and performance venues. “Runnals is a magnificent building with incredible history but we’ve maximized every square inch of this facility,” Associate Professor of Theater and Dance Jim Thurston said. Currently, Colby does not have a  specially built concert hall on campus or enough venues to support the needs of all performing groups on campus. “We want terrific facilities for our students and we want to make the performing arts a much more integrative part of Colby’s program,” said Clark.

Having recently received a generous gift from Trustee Michael Gordon ’66, Colby has been able to move forward with the plan for the new performing arts center. While the planning is still in its preliminary stages, the general expectations for the center are clear. Alongside Colby’s outstanding facilities, resources, and support for the visual arts, the new arts center hopes to provide the same level of support for students interested in the performing arts. “If we are serious about being a school that supports the full breadth of the arts and humanities we actually need to do this. It’s germane to who we are and what we aspire to,” Clark said.

While the primary departmental host of the building will be Cinema Studies, the center will also be home to the Theater and Dance Department and the Music Department. As of now, the building will house faculty offices, a screening room, a recital hall with about 300 seats, an experimental theater modifiable for all kinds of different performances, dance studios with sprung floors, and technology studios.

Concept drawings developed in the fall of 2016 imagined a grand lobby or forum that would connect the different halls and studios. “We want to make it a very active and dynamic space. Maybe there could be costume shops and design shops in there so you can see how productions are being put together. It’s very cutting edge in terms of how you think about the arts as not just traditional disciplines,” Clark said.   

Thurston believes the new arts center will be vital to providing a physical space for interdisciplinary work. “We’re talking about rethinking what theater and dance can be on this campus,” he said. “Maybe our curriculum needs to be much more intentionally interdisciplinary. Let’s say you have a student who is interested in performance, religion, and anthropology; maybe that student can build a major around those courses in a very integrative way.” With enhanced facilities and equipment, Colby hopes to increase comprehensive student engagement with the performing arts.

The location of the new arts center is driven by this goal to more deeply integrate the performing arts into campus life. “I meet seniors now that have never been in Runnals and I think that’s a really sad thing,” Thurston said. Adjacent to Diamond and across from Foss, Mary Low Lot provides a central location for the new arts center. While there is some worry about the loss of a parking lot on campus, Clark said that there is a plan to provide replacement parking by extending the parking lots behind Diamond.

The new arts and innovation center is a part of a larger goal to promote the arts throughout Waterville. “We’ve been really thinking about how we can make Waterville a destination for the arts,” Clark said. With a growing arts community, including Waterville Creates!, Common Street Arts, the Colby College Museum of Art, the Maine Film Center, and the newly renovated Waterville Opera House, Waterville is becoming a vibrant creative center. Colby’s new performing arts center will aim to enhance the growing art presence in Waterville and facilitate greater exchange between the Waterville community and Colby.