Covid Inspires ArtPort

ST. JOHNSBURY'S-Local mall in Vermont has empty storefronts closed awaiting to be filled, but a Regional Arts Organization knocks down three walls to make one open space. 

After almost nine months of trying to construct a performing arts space inside the Green Mountain Mall. The Catamount Arts team has now transformed a twenty four thousand square foot venue called ArtPort. "I couldn't tell you exactly when the first sledgehammer hit a piece of drywall, but it had to be done in early fall," Catamounts Artistic Director, Molly E. Stone explains.

This is not the first time Catamount Arts has teamed up with Mall owner, Mark Healy. Circus Smirkus put on by Catamount Arts has been held in the Green Mountain Mall parking lot. It was no surprise when the organization decided to look into an open space in the mall. The Green Mountain Mall seemed like a smart option in terms of a large venue.

Part of Catamounts work is going out into the community and working with other venues, like Northern Vermont University-Lyndon, St. Johnsbury Academy, or Lyndon Institute. But since the pandemic, performing art venues are not open to the public. "With the mall, it was kind of beautiful timing, with the amount of space in here being vacant. It's giving us this high capacity venue that we can not only use for the first time. But this is a space that we have control over," Catamounts Operations Director, Sarah Amos explains.

"Well the Green Mountain Mall is losing retail stores, and it's an open space with high ceilings. It's that raw industrial space that can take that sort of remodeling. It uses a footprint that would have just gone unused," Stone said. The Space is designed to hold up to 150 people inside, with individual squares spaced out all across the room. This design has a designated number of seats in each square, for social distancing purposes.

The inspiration behind purchasing the space was inspired by covid, but Catamount arts wants people to know it is not covid limited. This space may have been developed during a pandemic, but this location is here to stay for future events. "I actually don't know if we would have pursued this if covid hadn't happened," Amos said. Although virtual events have been successful for Catamount in the past, they needed their own space for performances.

It took at least three to four months to empty and clear out the space, taking a month to get the sound set up. As well as the floating panels in the ceiling, including the curtains being installed all around the venue. "So just those finishing touches, just to make it ready for performance took about a month," Stone said.

The space is not completely finished, but for now the team feels confident that the venue is ready for live music performances. The project commenced quietly for a while, but not to hide from the community. "When the work was being done, it was in the heat of the fall spike. There was just no way we could announce to the public that we were planning this venue. Then having questions about it, but couldn't even have it open anyway," Stone explains.

The wait to use the space lasted until the end of February. The Catamount Arts organization wasn't sure when they were able to use the space until they got the news for the go ahead. In order for the organization to organize an open event to the public, they have been throwing "practice shows." "We sort of have interior test runs, pilot shows as we call them. We invite board members and staff family members," Amos explains. Catamount arts will be doing their first official public show in the space on April 10th.