An architect’s rendering of the arts center, as it would look from the campus green. Photos courtesy of University of Southern Maine

Alan Kaschub, director of the School of Music at the University of Southern Maine, looks forward to the day he can start feeling nostalgic about Corthell Hall, the historic and longtime home of the music school. For now, the often-renovated 1878 building remains mostly a source of frustration.

“It’s a beautiful building, but it’s not a purpose-built building,” Kaschub said. “There is a lot of sound leakage between rooms. We have a one-person elevator that we have to use to move all of our equipment – and we travel a lot. When we play at Merrill Auditorium, every piece of percussion needs to be loaded basically one at a time. And every piano in Corthell has to be carried up the stairs.”

On Tuesday, USM announced it has received a $5 million gift from the Crewe Foundation to support construction of a future Center for the Arts on the Portland campus, which would include both a recital hall and visual art gallery. Construction of the single-story building could begin in 2023, with a construction budget of $38 million-$40 million depending on final design and material costs, said USM President Glenn Cummings. It’s the largest gift ever given by the Crewe Foundation, and among the largest gifts the university has received.

An architectural concept of the performance hall in a potential arts center on USM’s Portland campus.

The Crewe Foundation celebrates the legacy of the late songwriter and producer Bob Crewe. His brother Dan Crewe, who lives in Cumberland and co-founded the foundation, has been an ardent supporter of the USM School of Music since moving to Maine in 1991. Several years ago, the foundation pledged $3 million for an arts center on the Gorham campus, but withdrew that funding when the project fell through.

The new arts center is still in the early planning stages, and must be authorized by the University of Maine System trustees, as well as the city of Portland. Construction is contingent on continued fundraising, Cummings said. It is part of a master plan for the Portland campus that includes a $100 million dorm and student center currently under construction.

“We are hoping Dan’s gift will motivate, inspire and excite others to move forward so we can reach our goal,” Cummings said.

As envisioned now, the arts center would include a 200-seat recital hall, rehearsal rooms and studios, as well as an art gallery and the home of the Kate Cheney Chappell Center for Books Arts. The arts center, if built, would be between Bedford and Falmouth streets.

An architect’s rendering of the art gallery in the Center for the Arts.

Dan Crewe said he has been “blown away” by the quality of musicians at the School of Music and has tried to enhance the program by investing in scholarships and other programs. But he said Corthell Hall, which is on the Gorham campus, was inadequate for the quality of the USM arts programs, and that their consistent success “is a recognition of excellence in the face of absurd lack. I don’t want to make it sound too dramatic, but it’s incredible what they pull off and what they are able to do consistently. It’s a big issue. All of the programs involved in the arts writ large have been trying to subsist in the same space for too long. It’s been a juggling act, and they deserve better.”

A Chinese snow lilac in front of Corthell Hall in the arboretum at USM’s Gorham campus in 2004. Staff photo by Jack Milton

Kaschub said the School of Music could nearly double its enrollment by moving most of its programming to Portland. It has about 150 students now.

“We are in many ways USM’s best-kept secret because of our location,” he said. “We have a great many fans who come out to Gorham to see our stuff and have followed us for years, but it’s going to be easier to become a fan of the USM School of Music when we are in Portland. It will be easier to recruit students. We want to make this a destination place.”

The USM School of Music offers 14 degree and certificate programs and hosts at least 12 performance ensembles each semester.

“Our graduates have gone on to win Grammy Awards, perform at the Metropolitan Opera, attract hundreds of thousands of followers on YouTube as music educators and influencers, and serve in elite national music ensembles,” Cummings said in a statement. “In fact, School of Music alumni have won the Maine Outstanding New Music Educator of the Year Award every year for the past five straight years.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

Daily Headlines

  • Sign up and get the top stories to begin the day delivered to your inbox at 6 a.m.