I recently spoke with Kathy McKean – the Managing Director of the Massachusetts International Festival of the Arts. MIFA owns and is renovating the Victory Theatre in Holyoke, MA.
1. What is MIFA?
“MIFA is a Holyoke based International Festival that brings world-class events to Holyoke and the Pioneer Valley. MIFA’s 2011 Season included Hal Holbrook in ‘Mark Twain Tonight’ and Silent Film Night The Last Command. Other presentations in Holyoke have been Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’, contemporary Irish Dance in ‘Irish Cream’, Eddie Palmieri in Concert, a series of French Dance, Enchanted Circle Theatre in ‘Sojourners Truth’ and Mikhail Baryshnikov 2004 World Tour. MIFA is a vehicle for community restoration and historic and architectural preservation and is renovating and reopening the historic Victory Theatre, a 1600 hundred-seat Broadway style theater in downtown Holyoke. The iconic theater will be returned to its original use as a live theater house for Holyoke, the Valley and the Northeast.”
2. What initially drew MIFA to the building?
“MIFA chose Holyoke as its home in 2004 because of the city’s innate architectural beauty, its geographic location, its multiplicity of spaces, its need and the presence of a unique super asset and the Victory Theatre whose power as the last Broadway style theater in the Connecticut River Valley could house major MIFA events.
The Victory Theatre consists of approximately 42,000 square feet of useable space of which 30,000 square feet is the theatre area itself. The building is located on a lot of 14,640 square feet and covers the entire site. The exterior is brick with masonry ornamentation including an inscription with the theatre’s name. The original marquee has been lost but MIFA plans to replicate its design from archival images.”
3. How did you get involved with the restoration of the Victory Theater?
“Community leaders steadfastly protected the theater after its closing in 1979 and in the early 1990s an effort was made to bring it back, but a recession and bank failures thwarted this effort. MIFA immediately began working with the city to devise a plan, saving the Victory from the wrecking ball. In 2005 the festival undertook an in-depth assessment of the Victory. Funded by Jane’s Trust and the Massachusetts Legislature the study had theater experts gauge the feasibility and suitability and the cost of restoring and reopening the Victory Theatre. This study was completed in 2008. It resulted in a 2009 budget projecting a total cost of $28 million and lead to MIFA’s purchase of the theater in 2009. The challenge/ opportunity of the Victory once met will result in a magnificent addition to MIFA producing and presenting capability, a stimulus for Holyoke revitalization and a jewel in the Commonwealth’s cultural diadem.”
4. Why is it important that the Victory Theater be renovated?
“The Victory Theatre’s restoration is envisioned to be a catalyst for the revitalization of downtown. Holyoke. The MIFA Victory Theatre will draw visitors and patrons from Holyoke and the Pioneer Valley and from out-of-state. There is no other public Broadway style theater like the Victory in a non academic setting in the Pioneer Valley capable of putting on the type of shows that the Victory can, because of its size and design. A restored Victory Theatre will establish a continuing center of international artistic excellence, attracting visitors interested in Holyoke and the best in arts and entertainment. The Theatre will offer a broad mix of programming featuring the performing arts, entertainment, film and cultural exchanges with countries which provided Holyoke’s population. Programming will increase the liveliness of the downtown creating a need for hotel, B&B’s, restaurants, cafes and coffee houses. Its downtown urban location fosters a sophisticated, environment for theater-goers that complements the Valley’s established ; ample dressing and make-up rooms; convenient concession facilities arts scene. The Victory Theatre will draw 80,000 projected annual visitors/patrons to downtown Holyoke, including tourists.”
5. How is the MIFA raising money to fund the restoration of the theater?
“MIFA has developed a financial strategy and structure for the Victory Theatre, which relies on a wide variety of financial support including the $16 million of tax credits, that must be combined with cash grants and donations. MIFA’s financial plan calls for $6.5 million of public support from all levels of government and MIFA has been cultivating private donors and local and National Foundations.”