PUTNEY -- Every grant is important, Next Stage Arts Project Executive Director Maria Basescu said.
It’s a leap of faith, anyway, she said, taking an historic church in a small town of 2,600 people and working with a group of volunteers to transform it into a world class performing arts space.
So any time Next Stage receives a local, state or federal grant it is worth celebrating.
But the national grant that was awarded to Next Stage Arts Project late Friday afternoon is different.
Next Stage Arts Project has been awarded a $370,000 grant from ArtPlace America, a national organization that works with a number of foundations to support community art projects across the country.
Next Stage Arts Project was one of only 55 organizations that was chosen from a competitive field of 1,270 applicants, and its grant was among the largest given out during this year’s grant distribution process.
"We very passionately believe in what we are doing, and every grant of support feels like other people are seeing our vision and believing in us to help make this happen," Basescu said. "This is a huge validation for us. It’s great for Putney and it’s great for Vermont."
Basescu said a large portion of the ArtPlace America grant will go toward the capital campaign to fully restore, rehabilitate and modernize the former United Church of Putney, which the arts group shares with the Putney Historical Society.
In August 2009 the Putney Historical Society took over the 1841 former United Church of Putney at 15 Kimball Hill Road after the church disbanded.
About two years later a small group of volunteers formed Next Stage Arts Project to bring programming to the space and to try to help raise money to renovate the historic building.
Next Stage Arts Project is in the middle of a capital campaign to raise $860,000 to install an elevator and sprinkler system, restore the tin ceiling, introduce state-of-the-art lighting and sound systems and make the building fully accessible.
About $320,000 will go toward the building work, and with the money the group has already raised, the ArtPlace America grant brings Next Stage Arts Project about two-thirds of the way toward their goal, with about $200,000 still left to raise for the building restoration.
Another $40,000 of the grant will be used for community based programming, which Basescu said will be announced at a later date, and $10,000 can be used for consulting to help Next Stage Arts continue its mission to bring year-round music, theater, film and spoken word performances to Putney.
"This project is only a few years old and we have gotten this far because of the support and muscle and sweat of a group of people I have a tremendous amount of respect for," Basescu said. "When you look at the other grants that were given out for projects in big cities and realize that we were considered and respected in that sphere it is a real vote of confidence for the work we have done so far."
Basescu said many other grants have been off limits because the building is not fully accessible.
Once the restoration project is complete Next Stage Arts Project and the Putney Historical Society will be securely situated in Putney and able to continue to grow and bring programming to the region.
"The ArtPlace America grant expands the Putney Historical Society-Next Stage Arts Project collaboration to now include national partners and peer organizations, providing tremendous visibility not only for Next Stage but for the whole southern Vermont community," said Basescu. "This isn’t only about wanting to make this community better. Vermont is a symbol for the rest of the country, where we place value in community, the environment and trying to create a great way of life that is getting harder and harder to come by in this country. We are trying to be an inspiration for the rest of the country and this grant is a validation of that work we are doing."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 279.