RUMFORD – Nearly 100 people gathered Sunday afternoon amid the soft sounds of Pacobel’s Canon to celebrate the kick-off of the River Valley Arts Council in the historic Municipal Auditorium.
Two of the three members of the Monmouth Trio, Megan Buckley and Chris Eldridge, flawlessly played their violins as people attending viewed dozens of framed and matted photographs by several area photographers.
Sunday afternoon was the big day.
Dedicated art enthusiasts have been working to find a way to use the abundance of talent in the River Valley area to help reinvigorate and revitalize the economy and the community.
“This is our official coming out in Rumford,” said Town Manager Steve Eldridge who is also a member of the arts council. “The arts can be a major force in the River Valley.”
Featured was a performance by Farmington’s Nordica Trio. Ironically, the performance by the Nordica Trio, during the kick off of the arts council, will likely be the last for a while. The State Fire Marshal’s Office restricted capacity in the auditorium to 49 until several violations have been corrected, said Eldridge.
Before the concert opened, some of arts council members provided the background for the initiative, history of the 1916 Municipal Building and spoke of the plans for the future.
“Creativity and the arts attract money and boost the economy,” said Becky Welsh, a co-founder of the council who conducted a survey of area talent a couple of years ago with a grant from the Maine Arts Commission. “We have a huge vision to improve the quality of life here.”
Also instrumental in the arts movement in the River Valley was the establishment of the Pennacook Art Center two years ago.
Businessman and council member Lem Cissel, with the assistance of artists including Betsy Bell, opened the gallery as a for-profit center. Last month, the Congress Street gallery was transformed into an artists’ cooperative with nearly two dozen artists showing their works. Bell is the manager.
“This is a grassroots community gallery now,” Bell said. The photography exhibit in the Municipal Auditorium is the first of a planned annual photography show, she said.
A portion of the gallery will be transformed into an office for the arts council.
Eldridge said the council is working with the Maine College of Art in Portland to begin an outreach program in the River Valley.
Also in the planning stages is use of the fourth floor of the River Valley Technology Center as a space for working artists and art-related activities. The council is searching for grant money to renovate the area, Eldridge said.
Plans are also in the works to develop a summer concert series at Black Mountain of Maine, he added.
Holding the official send-off for the arts council in the Municipal Auditorium was particularly appropriate.
Council member Linda Macgregor, when outlining the history of the auditorium, said the hall had been used for performances by John Philip Sousa, speeches by William Jennings Bryant and President William Howard Taft, and performances by all manner of musicians and singers.
“We’re excited about what lies ahead,” she said.