Staff photo by Dan Gross
“Welcome to New Spire Arts. We are hoping to become a venue for the entire range for what it means to be a performing artist.”
With those words, Elizabeth Lucas, New Spire Arts’ producing artistic director, gave The Frederick News-Post a tour of the old Cultural Center downtown that will one day be home to a multipurpose performing space with a 200-seat theater. Lucas will use her experience as an award-winning New York producer and director of both stage and film to bring these ideas to fruition.
New Spire Arts plans to be a strengthening bridge for Frederick’s artistic community. The 15 West Patrick/North Market venue will be coupled with an arts education and creation center at 115 E. Church St. Programming is expected as early as summer 2017.
The small organization, made up of Lucas, director of education Julian Lazarus and marketing assistant Grace Cassutto, has a great deal of support. After years of planning spearheaded by longtime Frederick developer Marvin Ausherman, a grant by the Ausherman Family Foundation ensured the beginning of New Spire Arts.
“This room is what we call the Living Room and the arts hub component to it,” Lucas explained while standing in the room near the building’s 15 W. Patrick St. entrance. The exposed brick and wooden floors lend a coffee shop feel, despite the dust and various heavy desks that are lined up against the wall. The Living Room will serve as a place to advertise Frederick County arts events, see a performance on a kids’ stage, or grab a coffee provided by a nearby vendor. The room will be a “daytime area for families and people to hang out,” Lucas said before walking farther.
“This wall is all coming out. This whole back area is going to be an events and theater space.” Lucas explained that the building’s small theater, with old burgundy theater chairs huddled together, will be expanded. New Spire Arts plans to provide supplemental programs by having a performing space that is larger than the Maryland Ensemble Theatre’s intimate venue and smaller than the Weinberg Center’s. “With this across from Weinberg and next to MET,” Lucas said, “we hope [New Spire Arts] can be a place where we can offer kids programming while they offer grown-up shows, so parents can drop [off] their kids, see a show, get their kids and come home.”
On the other side of the theater, the room by 15 N. Market St. will be called the Lounge. This will be the site of evening entertainment such as spoken-word performances, small concerts and lectures. “Anything that’s more aurally focused,” Lucas added. “A little bit of food and drink and lots of programming.” The Lounge will likely have vendors that will provide pre-made food.
“That’s it in a nutshell,” Lucas said as she ended her tour of what was once McCrory’s five and dime. “We’re calling this New Spire Stages, and it is the public gathering and performance area and then our [115 E. Church St.] building we’re calling New Spire Spaces and that’s for our educational programs and creation spaces.”
At New Spire Spaces, there will be rehearsal spaces, a recording studio, and access to cutting-edge technology that will bring art to life. Lucas and her team are exploring the possibility of after-school and adult-learning programs at the East Church Street building.
Before the end of her interview, Lucas described New Spire Arts as Ausherman’s creative heart for Frederick. When he spoke with The News-Post, this was evident.
“I was able to acquire the two buildings that I have now,” Ausherman said in the conference room of the Ausherman Family Foundation. “My vision is that three, five years from now, there will be a very active performing arts community utilizing these two buildings I have.”
For this vision to be fulfilled, myriad construction permits first need to be approved. Ausherman takes on this work for the goals in front of him. “Both buildings will go through different construction schedules,” Ausherman continued. For the New Spire Stages building, less construction is involved, so there are plans for the Living Room and Lounge to open as early as this summer. For New Spire Spaces, with its high-tech art rooms, that construction may take longer.
Ausherman sees New Spire Arts as having a symbiotic relationship with the MET and the Weinberg, both organizations he praised profusely. For acts that may draw too small a crowd for the Weinberg, Ausherman imagines that one day, the Weinberg can refer the act to New Spire across the street. He also hopes that New Spire Arts will offer pre-show events for the Weinberg.
“We’ll probably go through a couple of years of experimenting,” Ausherman said. “It’s going to be really amazing. I’m excited about it.”
As New Spire Arts moves forward, the Ausherman Family Foundation will be a guiding presence in providing the grant funding and relationships to establish the organization. “The vision for the Family Foundation is empowering the passion for change,” Leigh Adams of the Ausherman Family Foundation said. “So New Spire Arts fits right in line with that mission.”
A common theme emerged in the comments from Lucas, Ausherman and Adams and that was that organizations like New Spire Arts empower the entire community. “I’m a firm believer in an arts ecosystem,” Lucas said while standing in the middle of her vision at 15 West Patrick. “When you teach people how to do things and give them room to create and give them space to present it, you make an ecosystem of creative thinkers. It lifts all boats.”