The Gendron Franco Center in Lewiston has been rebranded as Riverfront Performing Arts & Events, as seen on its sign Tuesday morning. The announcement has drawn mixed reactions. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — The Gendron Franco Center, perhaps central Maine’s most well-known cultural and performing arts venue, is rebranding.

The nonprofit organization, which was founded in 2000, said its shift to Riverfront Performing Arts and Events is an effort to modernize and appeal to a broader audience while still honoring Lewiston-Auburn’s Franco American history.

So far, the rebranding effort has been met with a mixed reaction from the public, including several negative comments on the organization’s social media pages Monday. Several people, including former board members, said the decision was “sad” and an attempt to “shy away” from French culture.

On Tuesday, board President Elaine Roop said she had been a little surprised by the reaction so far, but said they’ve also heard a lot of support for a change that the board saw as a “fresh, new look” that also honors the riverfront.

“Nothing has changed about being the stewards for our French Canadian heritage and culture,” she said. “The only change has been a change of name to make it far easier for people to know that all are welcome. It’s that simple.”

The new logo includes “founded by Franco Americans,” as well as its previous logo of a fleur-de-lis inside a star.


While the organization’s legal name has always been The Franco American Heritage Center at St. Mary’s, it has been known as The Dolard and Priscilla Gendron Franco Center for years following a large donation from the Gendron family.

Roop, who has been on the board for 12 years, said not only did the center survive the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s now doing “extremely well,” thanks in large part to Gendron. But, she said, coming out of the pandemic, the board had discussions on a name “that would really personify where we are today, not 20 years ago.”

Roop said the Franco Center has often fielded calls from people looking for the Franco-American Collection at the University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn College, or calls from people confused as to what the center does, or whether it’s only meant for people of French Canadian descent.

A statement from the board, posted on its social media, said, “Our new identity as ‘Riverfront Performing Arts and Events, Founded by Franco Americans,’ unites French Canadian immigrant heritage, the location along the riverfront, and the types of activities we host in our venue. We provide live performing arts and events that transform and engage our audiences and that enrich our community. Riverfront is a vibrant and energetic center where diverse stories and cultures are shared. We are grateful to live in a community that supports our mission and vision.”

Larry Gilbert, a former Lewiston mayor and one-time board president at the Franco Center, said he’s “incensed” by the name change.

“The center isn’t even on the riverfront. Cedar Street would be more appropriate,” he said. “Twenty-two years of a lot of work by a number of Franco Americans to develop and support this center to have it now being reduced to a tagline.”


Gilbert went on to say that the decision “must be reversed in order to maintain pride in our culture.”

“So many of us remember the polluted river, this name change pollutes the Franco American Heritage Center and culture,” he said.

On the “Riverfront — Franco Center” Facebook page, other comments included one from Jennifer Gendron Carleton, which said “the board and employees of the center got this one way off base, I think.”

“The name holds no basis at all and it completely takes away the whole meaning behind this establishment,” Destiney Lemieux said. “A place by and for the Franco American people of our area.”

Roop, responding to the social media comments, said the six-member board of directors took a vote on the new identity. The board consists of Roop, Michel Lajoie, Janet Sullivan, Michel Courchesne, Donald Christie Jr. and Edmond Gay.

Asked about the public rollout of the rebranding effort, Denise Scammon, marketing/development director, said Riverfront planned a “soft” rollout.


Roop said the use of “Riverfront” was meant to join the city of Lewiston in its rehabilitation efforts of the entire riverfront island area.

Former Mayor Mark Cayer said that “with a decade of investment by the city of Lewiston into the riverfront, it makes sense to add Riverfront to the name to highlight a beautiful area. Thank you for continuing to honor the Franco heritage in the Riverfront-Franco Center.”

The end of the organization’s statement says, “Our building’s new name, Riverfront Performing Arts and Events, hasn’t changed what is important to us.”

“These French immigrants from long ago would be so proud to see that their culture and heritage has moved forward,” Roop said. “This is a gift from them to the community.”

On Tuesday, Mayor Carl Sheline said, “While the new name will take some getting used to, what remains the same is that the old St. Mary’s Church is a cultural cornerstone of our city and one of the best performing arts venues in the state.”

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