Performing Arts

Simsbury selectmen discuss future of performing arts center

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At its meeting on Dec. 15, the Simsbury Board of Selectmen heard a presentation on the Simsbury Meadows Performing Arts Center, and its budget needs going forward.

The arts center’s Executive Director Missy DiNunno, as well as the center’s board members Linda Schofield and Bob Hensley, made the presentation, subtitled “Past, Present, and Future.”

Hensley gave some of the center’s history, when events such as the Talcott Mountain Music Festival were held at various locations.

“The idea, or the vision, was that we could build a permanent facility and ensure that the performing of the symphony and those wonderful summer concerts would be permanently in Simsbury,” Hensley said.

The center’s master plan was conceived in 2003, and the bandshell was completed in 2005, with expansion of the building, including dressing rooms, office space, and restrooms following in subsequent years, as well as sound towers, lighting, paving, and other features.

The town originally managed the center, but later privatized it as a nonprofit, which enabled it to raise funds and expand the infrastructure, and partner with the town.

DiNunno said that when she was hired in 2018, her first task was to review the business model and policies, to ensure financial stability and consistency with industry standards.

DiNunno said there was a shift to a presenting model, wherein the center purchases programming, and generates revenue on ticket sales. The plan was to continue that in 2020, before the pandemic hit.

But, 2020 also saw a “great pivot” with the center turning to different kinds of programming, with large-scale events canceled. The center booked smaller, but socially-distanced events, including fitness classes, dance recitals, local arts group rehearsals, and meetings.

“We really are more than a stage,” DiNunno said. “We do so much more than the performing arts, because we have this great 7-acre field at our fingertips.”

The center also hosted the 100 Women of Color event and the Simsbury 350th Committee’s History Walk, utilizing the center’s fence, which will resume in the spring.

The SMPAC is also starting new fundraising initiatives, including an annual giving program, building relationships with donors and constituents and has also received some coronavirus relief funding. It’s also working on programming for 2021 that can be held with restrictions in place.

Schofield spoke about plans to expand the physical plant. She said that adding to the center’s backstage infrastructure will reduce the need to rent equipment and trailers. The new proposed building would also add office space and meeting space for local organizations to rent and use. It would also add public restrooms, which could also be used by park-goers and users of the multi-use trail.

“There are a lot of reasons why we really need to move forward and get this planned and completed,” Schofield said, adding that the project would cost close to $1 million, but grants are being applied for and private donors are considering investments as well, if the town will match the contribution.

The selectmen applauded the center’s efforts and were enthused about future collaborations.

“What could have been a really terrible thing happening to the performing arts center with COVID, I think is going to actually position you to be even more competitive in the years to come 1/4 u201a” said First Selectman Eric Wellman. “I’m looking forward to good things to come.”

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