Every once in a while, a straight-up good news story can be just what the doctor ordered. Not so much to take the edge off of all the bad news in the world, but rather restore some threads of hope and remind us that sorrow and celebrating the arts are not mutually exclusive. This is one of those times, and it all began with a Facebook post.
Last week Mayo Street Arts shared that it was unexpectedly in dire financial straits after a routine fire inspection revealed the need for a replacement of the renovated church’s sprinkler system to the tune of just under $14,000.
Formerly the Danish Lutheran St. Ansgar Church, the Mayo Street Arts building was built in 1890. You’ll find it tucked on a side street off of Cumberland Avenue in Portland’s East End, and it’s been in existence as Mayo Street Arts since 2010. It has a seating capacity of 110, making it an intimate and wonderful place to gather for a show.
From local and international music and theater, art shows, films, quirky events like puppet shows and the SLAP (Superhero Lady Arm-wrestlers of Portland) competitions, this is a space that truly offers something for everyone. On March 24, you can catch a screening of the documentary “I Know a Man … Ashley Bryan”; on April 7, there’s a Tophat Miniature production of “Jesus Christ Superstar”; and a performance by violinist Yaeko Miranda Elmaleh is happening on April 14, to give just a hint of what its calendar looks like.
I’ll never forget seeing the an enchanting performance by local vocal group Murmurations a number of years ago, joined by singer-songwriter Gordon Bok. The point is, this place is special, and when they needed our help, we answered the call.
I reached out to Mayo Street Arts director Blainor McGough who told me that MSA received more than 100 small donations within 48 hours. “It definitely gives you the warm and fuzzies. We have never seen such a rapid and immediate outpouring of support for Mayo Street Arts, and the fact that we had 100 gifts of $25 and under, plus a number of substantial gifts, feels amazing.” McGough went on to say that, at times, running an arts venue can feel like a thankless task, but this successful fundraising campaign was incredibly affirming. “The community has rallied around this. Artists, musicians, board members, community members, even volunteers and staff – everyone pitched in by giving to (and sharing) the campaign.”
McGough said that Mayo Street Arts prides itself on being welcoming, fun and, above all, safe. “Needless to say, we are incredibly grateful to the Portland Fire Department and brave firefighters who keep us safe and have been very helpful and who have worked with us to create a plan of action that meets safety codes.”
I asked McGough what she thinks makes Mayo Street Arts such a special place. “It was started by a group of immigrants and is still a hub for immigrants.” She said it also makes a difference for families of East Bayside with reading, tutoring and arts programs for youth.
I also reached out to two performers who hold Mayo Street Arts close to their hearts. Singer-songwriter Jenny Van West has performed there several times and says that the venue has perfected combining the presentation of art, music, dance and theater with building community. “Mayo Street fills many gaps in the venue fabric of Portland. Among other things, they welcome performers from so many different cultures, all while providing a stunningly beautiful and intimate space for both performers and audiences, while also keeping ticket prices low.” Van West specifically praised Mayo Street for its willingness to create an alternative price structure for the International Open Mic series, which makes it possible to include recent immigrants and people with low or no income. “This theater is a jewel in the crown of Portland.”
David Worobec of Tophat Miniature Productions echoed Van West’s sentiments. “There’s something for everyone. I’m proud to be a part of Mayo Street’s community as well as a resident artist.”
Mayo Street Arts raised every nickel it needed in about four days. Work on the sprinkler system is scheduled to be done in mid-April.
It’s always a good idea to know if the venues you support are nonprofits. Most of them are perpetually in need of help to keep the doors open and help with repairs. A few examples are the Chocolate Church Arts Center in Bath and St. Lawrence Arts Center and One Longfellow Square in Portland.
If you’re not sure if the place where you love to see shows is a nonprofit, head to its website, or just ask next time you’re there. Every dollar truly does count. And in case you’re wondering, I put my money where my mouth is and proudly kicked in to help Mayo Street Arts. They needed it, and so do many other arts nonprofits. Consider yourself gently and cheerfully nudged.