Cumberland arts center, and its manager, prepare for launch

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CUMBERLAND — Almost four years to the day after she helped pitch an arts center to the School Administrative District 51 Board of Directors, a beaming Jen Segal sat in the center of the nearly finished 510-seat auditorium Jan. 3, imagining the performances likely to light up the stage for decades to come.

The Cumberland-North Yarmouth school district in late November 2018 hired Segal, a former committee member for the project who has worked on Broadway, to manage the Greely Center for the Arts – a 26,000-square-foot, two-story building, designed by Stephen Blatt Architects and built at the rear of Greely High School.

“Every time I come in here it’s a little emotional,” the Cumberland resident said. “It’s a pretty amazing space; I could just feel the learning happen the minute I stepped in.

“Everywhere it just feels alive and vibrant, and I can’t wait to get people to come in and experience it,” Segal said as she watched two wide-eyed students take in the scene as they strolled into the auditorium. 

The center’s opening is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 28, from 6-9 p.m. with an open house, ribbon-cutting ceremony and performances by students. Regular programming will begin next month.

“There are lots and lots and lots of layers and details … we’re working out right now,” Segal said. “We’re going over policies and procedures.”

The road hasn’t been an easy one. Voters in 2001 approved a 475-seat facility for $5 million, but the bond ended up being insufficient to cover construction costs. A follow-up referendum for an additional $1.5 million failed, killing the project.

Segal and fellow SAD 51 parent Mary George in January 2015 pitched a new version of the arts center to the School Board, which they proposed could open by September 2017.

Centers like those at Falmouth High School and Merrill Auditorium in Portland “offer comfort, unobstructed visuals, a reliable sound system and high-quality acoustics,” George said at the time. “Each time I attend a similar event here at Greely, I wonder why our district does not have a similar facility. Every surrounding community has a performing arts center, showing their support and importance of arts education.”

She added that “MSAD 51 is one of the top districts in the state of Maine. Why don’t we have a performing arts center? Our students, teachers and residents need and deserve one.”

The project’s price tag of up to $9.5 million drew controversy, and support from Cumberland and North Yarmouth voters in November 2016 came by a margin of only 2 percent, 4,149 to 3,953.

Construction began in 2017.

Segal, who hails from the Midwest and moved with her family to Cumberland from New York City about 15 years ago, said “I feel like this is sort of where everything else that I’ve done in my life has led me; I’ve done pieces of all of it.”

She was a theater production student who acted and sang professionally in New York, worked in marketing, and coordinated large events at venues such as Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall.

“I just know what the arts have given me, in my life,” she said. “And I know how it can support learning, and how it can be such a great addition to any community.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 780-9085 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Jen Segal is manager of the new Greely Center for the Arts in Cumberland, where a grand opening will be held Monday, Jan. 28.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.