Colby College Opens $95 Million Performing Arts Centers

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WATERVILLE, Maine–As part of its significant commitment to investing in the arts over the last decade, Colby College is celebrating the official opening of the Gordon Center for Creative and Performing Arts, the largest academic project in the College’s history.

Named in honor of Life Trustee Michael Gordon, an alumnus from the Class of 1966, the $95-million, 74,000-square-foot building is one of the most advanced and innovative performing arts facilities in New England and the new home for the departments of Music, Cinema Studies, and Performance, Theater, and Dance.

With a unique combination of highly flexible, multipurpose performance areas and studios, the Gordon Center, which was designed for teaching, performing, and most importantly, creating, will provide transformational opportunities and experiences for Colby students and the broader community.

“The Gordon Center is a stunningly beautiful facility,” said Colby President David A. Greene, “but that only tells a small piece of the story. It is a technically sophisticated building that invites explorations of new artistic expression in ways that will ensure our performing arts programs flourish. It is a center of creativity that will offer all students the opportunity to engage in the creative process, push the boundaries of what they thought possible, and take that spirit of innovation into other disciplines and ultimately into their lives and work.

It is also a true community center, the capstone project of a greatly expanded arts ecosystem in Waterville that makes our city a destination for the arts and catalyzes economic development. None of this would have been possible without the generosity and vision of Michael Gordon and many others who stepped forward to further this vision. We are grateful for their leadership.”

Flexible, Multipurpose Spaces

Designed by William Rawn Associates, Architects Inc., which has designed some of the country’s most iconic performance spaces, including Seiji Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood, the Gordon Center for Creative and Performing Arts emphatically integrates itself into the campus. As a natural bookend to the Colby Museum of Art, it embraces the south end of the College and Mayflower Hill Drive, communicating that the arts are at the core of Colby. With a dramatic exterior that combines glass, limestone, and brick, it beckons students and the broader community to participate in its creative energy.

At the heart of the Gordon Center is the Olentine Forum, a unique common space and performance area connecting to the three major studios, performance hall, and arts incubator. Designed to enable everyone in the building to visually interact with the energy of creating art, it brings together the various disciplines, breaking down independent silos that are often found in performance spaces.

Another key area is the 300-seat performance hall. With a unique set of acoustical options that can be customized depending on the type of performance (e.g. from a full symphony to a solo performer), it includes a large stage and an orchestra pit that can be raised to extend the stage. While the walls and ceiling of the 7,700-square-foot hall are covered in wood, the back of the hall is glass that can be dimmed and shaded as required. Additional highlights include:

Studio 1: Designed primarily for collaborative, experimental performance by all departments, the high-volume, 2,500-square-foot space has a 36-foot-high ceiling and a wall of glass. Acoustics can be tailored to the specific performance/rehearsal; there’s a control booth with projection capabilities; and the space is equipped with theater rigging for attaching scenery, backgrounds, and lighting.

Studio 2: With a unique level of lighting capabilities, this 2,500-square-foot black box theater space can be used for a wide range of performances and productions. It was designed with four points of entry to allow for multiple performance/audience arrangements, has a dedicated control booth and projection screen, and features a light pipe grid on the ceiling and four walls.

Studio 3: The 2,500-square-foot space with a wooden sprung floor and a full wall of mirrors is ideal for movement and dance. It also includes a light pipe grid with programmable theatrical lighting, video projection capabilities, and a roll-drop scrim to cover the mirror for multiple performance/audience arrangements.

“Faculty and students who’ve been using this building since the start of this semester are thrilled with it,” said Margaret McFadden, provost and dean of faculty at Colby. “What sets it apart from other arts centers is that it was very deliberately designed to enable multidisciplinary and collaborative creative work. While each space has particular capabilities, all the performance areas were designed to be highly flexible and to foster creativity and innovation across the performing arts. I can’t wait to see the exceptional work our faculty and students will create in this beautiful space.”

The Gordon Center also includes a 50-seat film screening room with a dedicated projection booth that’s complemented by acoustically isolated video editing and recording rooms, as well as a studio production room that has a cyclorama (“cyc”) wall.

Other highlights are a 1,700-square-foot scene shop uniquely infused with natural light, a dedicated costume shop inviting visitors from the east entry to see the actual making of costumes, and a series of dressing rooms as well as a greenroom for pre- and post-performance use by performers. Additionally, there are 28 faculty offices and teaching studios, as well as two seminar rooms, a large classroom, and a general rehearsal room.

The Gordon Center also includes a unique arts incubator, and it is home to the Lyons Arts Lab. Both are focused on facilitating and supporting new ideas, concepts, and content developed by Colby students that can ultimately be performed for and experienced by the public.  

Exceptional Investment in the Arts

Over the past decade, Colby College has invested close to $400 million into the arts, including a major expansion of the Colby Museum’s collection, the establishment of the Lunder Institute for American Art, the acquisition of an island campus previously owned by Andrew and Betsy Wyeth and the site of many of Andrew Wyeth’s most beloved paintings, and the opening of three major art centers in the past three years.  

Besides the Gordon Center, these include the Paul J. Schupf Art Center, which opened at the end of 2022, and Greene Block + Studios, a unique arts collaborative that opened in 2021. The Gordon Center for Creative and Performing Arts represents the culmination of those investments and the final effort to create and coordinate a series of arts venues on campus and in downtown Waterville.

“In addition to elevating the arts on campus, our goal has been to use them to help drive the economic resurgence of the area by creating an arts ecosystem that positions the city as the cultural hub of Northern New England and one of the great regional art destinations in the country,” said President Greene.

Dynamic Programming

Designed to complement and enhance the broader arts ecosystem in the region, the Gordon Center is already attracting a wide range of nationally recognized artists and performers. Recent highlights include theater artist and Pulitzer Prize-finalist Kristina Wong, the globally recognized culinary collective Ghetto Gastro, and Grammy Award-winning Pueblo musician and storyteller Robert Mirabal.

“Waterville has evolved into a dynamic arts destination with a unique set of venues and attractions that are unparalleled in Northern New England,” commented Teresa McKinney, Diamond Family Director of the Arts at Colby College. “An exciting mix of programming will bring to life the amazing arts assets that the area has to offer and allow visitors to see and experience a wide range of wonderful art and artists.”

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