The Vermont Cynic

Group fights to restore venue

Allie O'Connor, Staff Writer

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Phil Carruthers

The old Burlington City Arts building, the Memorial Auditorium, sits unoccupied on Main Street. At the end of the building is 242 Main, an arts nonprofit, which will host its final concert series Feb. 8.

“Hope,” is graffitied in large silvery letters against the dull brick and dirty, broken windows of Memorial Auditorium.

It’s bright colors catch the eye on Main Street. Faded blocks of purple, silver and white, layered with streaks and signatures of red color the spray-painted letters.

The old Burlington City Arts entrance is littered with soda cans, cigarette butts and wilting grass.

From the looks of the auditorium, hope for its return to the Burlington community looks even more misplaced than the lively graffiti that covers the grimy brick and cracked stone.

Memorial Auditorium, a multi-purpose arena and studio space, was built in 1927. Since its closing in December 2016, community members have been attempting to revive it.

“Memorial Auditorium was a run-down, unsafe old building, but it was comfortable, it was spacious,” artist Elise Whittemore said. Her printmaking studio used to be located there before she was forced to move.

“People just wandered in occasionally to see what was going on. It was hot in the summer, cold in the winter, but felt like the old school that it was. It felt like old Burlington,” she said.

The local initiative to re-establish Memorial Auditorium as a beloved community space and musical and artistic haven breathes a new vitality into the building, thanks in no small way to 242 Main.

A youth music space that was located in the basement of the auditorium, 242 Main taught and entertained for decades before its closing in December 2016.

It began as a city-endorsed project to give local teens a space to organize their own events, but quickly became more, said James Lockridge, executive director of local music development office Big Heavy World.

“[Teens] had a safe space that they were comfortable enough in to build community, to communicate with one another and to have a chance to see what it’s like to have an opinion and have that be okay,” Lockridge said.

242 Main focused heavily on being a safe, substance-free zone for all ages to come together and participate and be involved in music, activism and the arts, he said.

To fill the void where 242 Main’s programming used to be, Big Heavy World and other local organizations are hosting a substance-free concert series.

Since Jan. 12, Big Heavy World has hosted four concerts at the South End Arts and Business Association Center on Pine Street.

The final concert in the series will be co-hosted with Friends+Family, a musician-run booking collective, and will take place at  7 p.m. on Feb. 8.

Artists featured at the concert will include The Dead Shakers, a psychedelic rock group from Maine; The Mountain Carol, a New-York based group of synth-pop singers; and Echoer, whose electronic music lies somewhere on the spectrum of groove and ambiance.

“We’re always leaning into the work of making Vermont a more hospitable and respectful place for music as an important contributor to our community, economy and identity,” Lockridge said.

Big Heavy World has opened its doors to artists who lost an important creative space in 242 Main, sophomore Noah Schneidman said.

“Being able to do my album release there has been amazing so far. They are super supportive of all the aspirations I have,” he said.

Big Heavy World has been a strong advocate for the renovation of Memorial Auditorium and the reopening of 242 Main to reinstate safe musical and artistic programming for locals of all ages, he said.

“The city itself chose to not maintain [the auditorium], which is why it decayed,” Lockridge said. “[The city] chose to not staff it in a way that had the acumen to generate revenue to sustain it.”

The city is  finally now recognizing its shortcomings, he said, and its responsibility to put it back together.

“[Mayor Miro Weinberger] has committed to developing a plan for capitalizing on what we’ll call redevelopment, basically bringing it up to code and to modern standards on the inside while preserving the outside,” Lockridge said.

Whether the city makes an internal decision to revive Memorial Auditorium, or works in response to extreme public pressure, Lockridge said he expects it to be brought back.

A petition for the renovation of Memorial has garnered over 1,700 signatures, with a goal of 2,500. The petition can be found at Save242main.com, Lockridge said.

While the community waits, Big Heavy World will continue its efforts to be a fun and welcoming space in Burlington music scene through its concert series, he said.

A $5 donation is encouraged at each concert. Admission is open to the public.

 

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Group fights to restore venue