Catamount Arts and Green Mountain Mall owner Mark Healy have announced exciting new plans for the mall property in St. Johnsbury. Work began quietly several months ago, repurposing unoccupied mall space to create ArtPort, a large, versatile indoor arts, entertainment, and performance space suitable for live shows, exhibitions, and more.
The collaboration between Healy and Catamount Arts is not new; Circus Smirkus has been setting up in the mall parking lot for years, and the indoor space has certainly been on Catamount’s radar.
“It’s a great space with lots of exciting potential,” says Catamount Executive Director Jody Fried, “but we’ve been super busy in recent years getting other big projects off the ground.” These projects include the acquisition of Catamount’s big mobile concert stage, which launched the development of the Levitt AMP St. Johnsbury Live Music Series and boosted several Creative Development Hub projects throughout the Northeast Kingdom.
Then COVID happened. Like arts organizations around the world, Catamount shuttered their Eastern Avenue arts center and announced cancelations of all performance tours, movie screenings, and virtually all scheduled programming. Staffers scrambled to adapt what they could, hosting EPIC Music lessons one-on-one or online and gearing their annual film slam with SOCAPA to quarantined families.
Then Catamount created new programming practically overnight to keep all sectors of the community engaged, entertained, and connected. They developed community-driven projects like Kingdom COVID Chronicles, the COVID Discovery Quilt, and the Hey NEK What’s Your Art Showcase.
As quarantine guidelines loosened, live performance returned with #GetDownTown, the Drive-In-to-Stay-Safe movie and music series, and the country’s first vertical concert featuring Kat Wright at Burke Mountain. Catamount finished the year by broadcasting First Night North free via KATV to families well beyond the Northeast Kingdom. But what about the year to come?
“The short answer is, we’re hoping for sun and preparing for rain,” Fried said. “We’re repurposing the Green Mountain Mall space with social distancing and aggressive ventilation in mind. ArtPort will bring live events back in a way that doesn’t compromise safety or leave us hamstrung if the virus doesn’t go away.”
Fried credit a variety of sponsors for helping to fund the endeavor. “Thanks to the vision and support of NVRH, Community National Bank, Passumpsic Bank, VSECU and the Neil and Louise Tillotson Fund,” he adds, “the NEK will have an innovative new indoor performance venue that allows our community to safely experience the arts in the future.”
According to Healy, “the Green Mountain Mall is pleased and excited for the ArtPort venue. As we move forward to redevelop the center, a key component will be entertainment. Repurposing space from retail to experiential is a trend seen throughout the country and we believe the ArtPort indoor concert pavilion will serve as a draw for audience members throughout the region.”
As for what types of events the ArtPort project will host, Fried says the sky’s the limit. “It’s basically an enormous warehouse, 24,000 square feet. It’s like an airplane hangar. We can pull the mobile stage in, we can accommodate food trucks, we can hang [gallery] shows, screen movies, maybe bring in cabaret acts and theater.”
Fried’s real ambition for ArtPort is bigger than mere entertainment, however. “The creative sector will play a major role in our community’s recovery, both economic and otherwise” says Fried. “We’re very excited to see what we can do here. Stay tuned.”