Key to success? Portland music venue goes nonprofit

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PORTLAND — Every fall, the staff at One Longfellow Square takes  a week to renovate the performance space.

But this year, the folk, jazz and world music venue at Congress and State streets is renovating more than space. Its business plan is getting a makeover, too: One Longfellow Square will reopen this week as a nonprofit organization.

“We’re very close (financially), but we’re not quite making it as a venue,” Managing Director Tom Rota said.

Rota has been with One Longfellow for four years, nearly since the business took over the space formerly occupied by the Center for Cultural Exchange.

The venue seats 200, and plays host to a variety of performers, from local musicians to national acts.

“We’ve had a bunch of good runs, but in the end, we couldn’t make ends meet,” Rota said.

So, in order to apply for grants and other funding sources, the company formed a board of directors and hired grant-writer and youth development coordinator Rob Ellis as the new nonprofit’s executive director.

Ellis hopes One Longfellow Square can team up with other local nonprofits to give area students an opportunity to work closely with local artists to do their own performances.

“There’s a lot of great programming for youth development around here,” Ellis said.

The organization has already teamed up with Portland-based youth outreach nonprofit LearningWorks, to aid in providing arts and cultural education, and Big Brothers Big Sisters to offer mentoring with local musicians, artists and sound engineers.

“We already have up to 14 nonprofits to build this continuum,” Ellis said. “This is a great music venue, but that’s just on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.”

Both Rota and Ellis emphasized that One Longfellow would continue to be a venue for music.

People will now be able to purchase memberships, which will provide discounted tickets to shows, while supporting the organization’s outreach programs.

“The venue, as a music venue, is a very special place,” Rota said. “Musicians really love this space. People come here to hear a really good show. They don’t come here to talk through a performance, or eat through a performance.”

So this year, just like every fall, One Longfellow’s small staff donned paint-covered jeans and t-shirts, and put a new face on the space. Local designer Pat Corrigan designed a new logo and hand-painted an intricate and colorful pattern on the walls, meant to emulate Victorian wallpaper.

“Now, with this whole rebirth, we wanted a new look,” said Rota. “I think it looks fantastic.”

One Longfellow Square’s fall performance schedule, tickets and a place to make donations, are all available online at onelongfellowsquare.com.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @emilyparkhurst.

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Executive Director Rob Ellis, left, and Managing Director Tom Rota outside the newly renovated One Longfellow Square at Congress and State streets in Portland. The venue is becoming a nonprofit organization with focus on afterschool programs and arts education in the community, in addition to musical performance offerings.

One Longfellow Square Managing Director Tom Rota points outs renovations underway at the venue in Portland.

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