Vermont Arts Exchange, Masonic Temple partner to bring performance space downtown

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BENNINGTON — The Vermont Arts Exchange has partnered with the Masonic Temple to host live performances downtown.

The North Bennington-based arts nonprofit will host its Basement Music Series and other events within the 103-year-old historic building at 504 Main St. It's a "win-win" for both groups, according to Matthew Perry, VAE co-founder and executive director.

"We want to breathe some new life into the building," Perry said Tuesday, in between moving tables, chairs and other items inside.

Space on the building's first floor will hold a bar and a lounge, according to Perry, while the roughly 1,500 squarefoot ballroom will host live music, dance parties and other gatherings. The Masonic Lodge will continue to host events at the building on the first floor and rest of the building.

For VAE, it's a chance to make another attraction in the downtown area as well as foster growth to the region's creative economy, according to Perry,

For the Masonic Temple, it's an opportunity to bring in a new revenue stream and collaborate with a creative partner that will help make improvements to the historic building, according to David Young, a Freemason of the Mount Anthony Lodge No.13 and friend of Perry's.

It's one of some half a dozen purpose-built Masonic Temples in Vermont, he said, and has not been utilized or maintained as much in the past few decades.

"This is a fantastic opportunity to bring someone in to help provide resources to get it back where it rightfully belongs," he said.

The VAE is a non-profit organization that promotes art to the community through various programs. It hosts art education classes and programs for individuals, local schools and groups like the United Counseling Service and Vermont Veterans' Home, among others. And a 30-year-old school bus serves as a "travelling studio on wheels."

VAE called the Sage Street Mill in North Bennington its home for 21 years. In May, the organization moved into the nearby McGovern Masonry building.

The new doesn't have room to fit the organization's popular Basement Music Series, Perry said, and that led he and others to seek other venues. Perry said VAE hopes to host dance parties and concerts for both adults and teenagers.

In addition to the ballroom, there's also a lounge and a bar, complete with a pool table. Much of the first floor's furnishings, wall coverings, lighting fixtures and other decorations will remain, he said. The resulting style will be "funky" while respecting the building's history.

The temple is located within the Downtown Bennington Historic District under the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP.) Built in 1912 in the "Tudor Revival" style, striking features include a steeply-pitched roof, parapeted and stepped gable, contrasting brick and concrete walls, a Tudor-arched doorway and leaded-glass windows.

It was built on land donated by John Norton, a local pottery manufacturer, and the building was donated by Col. Olin Scott, proprietor of the Bennington Machine Works, according to information from the NRHP.

It was built for Mount Anthony Lodge No.13, Young said, but various bodies of the fraternal organization have been through its doors over the years.

"It's a very historically significant structure for the community, and unfortunately, it's been forgotten for too long," Young said. "I'm hoping this partnership will help it."

For more information, Visit the Vermont Arts Exchange's website at www.vtartxchange.org or on Facebook.

Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979


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