One sign life is getting a bit closer to normal is visible in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, where indoor concerts will soon start up again — in a space tailor-made for physical distancing.
“It’s so nice to be in a space where the possibilities are endless,” said Molly Stone, the artistic director of Catamount Arts, of the group’s new ArtPort.
The ArtPort is located inside the Green Mountain Mall in St. Johnsbury, occupying three vacant storefronts, one of which appears to have previously housed a Fashion Bug.
“I’m so grateful that we’re able to come and occupy this space and hopefully bring new life into it,” said Sarah Amos, the director of operations for Catamount Arts.
The organization said it knows there’s pent-up demand for concerts and other shows after months of inactivity because of COVID-19.
However, there’s still a ways to go for outdoor events in the chilly Northeast Kingdom. So with a brand-new air handling system, high ceilings and fans, the nonprofit will start offering indoor gatherings in the ArtPort April 10.
Stone said all events will follow Vermont’s capacity limits, keep guests distanced in squares marked off on the floor and make sure everyone in attendance is masked. She added that Catamount Arts is glad to take these steps, knowing being careful is what it’ll take to get everyone back together again.
“The entertainment industry has been out of work for so many months and it takes just one venue to screw it up for everyone, basically,” Stone said. “So we take that very seriously.”
New Hampshire musician Audrey Drake was the very first person to take the stage of the ArtPort, in a recent trial run to check sound, lights and other operations before the official opening.
“There’s something to look forward to,” she said of what the ArtPort symbolizes to her.
Drake told NECN she has really missed performing for live audiences during the pandemic.
“It was a joy to be back on stage,” Drake recalled of her time on the ArtPort stage last weekend. “Every second of it. Every second I was saying, ‘Soak this all in, soak it all in.’ It was so amazing.”
The Catamount Arts headquarters in downtown St. Jay is a historic building without the kind of air circulation the mall can offer, and has close fixed seating in its screening rooms.
Stone said expanding from that location to the former retail floors therefore gives programmers and performers needed flexibility, plus a bit of a funky edge.
“It’s not polished,” the artistic director said of the transformed mall space. “And I think we’re in a new era where being not polished is okay.”
Stone emphasized the ArtPort is permanent, not just for the pandemic. When shows do move outside in warmer months, the new venue will be available as a rain location, she added.