Originally published in Castine Patriot, May 1, 2014
Peninsula community turns out for “Save the Alamo” campaign
The Alamo Theater is closed while “going digital” after a successful fundraising campaign for the project. Funds continue to be raised for programming.
by Ruby Nash
When David Weiss and Jane Donnell of Northeast Historic Film met with community members in February to discuss saving the Alamo Theatre, they had mild hopes for moving forward.
Once part of a consortium of four regional theaters projecting in 35mm film, the Alamo’s consortium had been cut in half when two theaters decided to “go digital.” The cost of renting the films to run, once shared by all four organizations, was suddenly a burden shared by only two.
The choice was to buy a digital projector or close the Alamo.
“It wasn’t long ago that projectors were $90,000,” said Weiss in a recent interview. NHF had waited as long as it could for the price to come down, but digital projectors now run about $50,000.
A meeting was convened with local community members and business owners to discuss options for moving forward.
“We didn’t know what to expect,” said Donnell.
“I thought the community would say, ‘That’s a lot of money, and we really don’t care that much,’” Weiss added.
Since that initial meeting, people from Bucksport to Castine, Ellsworth to Blue Hill, Atlanta to Italy have turned out in support for the Alamo Theatre.
“It was such a no-brainer for everyone,” Donnell said. “They wanted to keep it open.”
A steering committee was formed to start fundraising, popcorn buckets were placed in area businesses to collect spare change, and a GoFundMe website was created to draw attention to the cause.
For many donors, it was about keeping a cultural icon alive in the area. For others, it was about family history. Donations from former residents came in from across the country, and even a few from the rest of the world. Checks have been received from 25 states in the nation. A donation was made simply because the contributor’s grandmother played the piano at the Alamo for silent movies, which would have been in the 1920s. For others, it was about keeping business alive in Bucksport.
The Chamber of Commerce in Bucksport supported the endeavor, as did the Town Council.
When the NHF took over the building in 1992, they had no plans to have a fully operational theater.
“We had folding chairs in the basement, potluck dinners, and popcorn,” Weiss said. Getting to the basement involved climbing down a ladder. “We thought we were going to have a private screening room for our archives.”
But the community demanded a theater. “People said, ‘Clearly you’re going to open the theater,’” Weiss recalled. “The town of Bucksport supported us then too,” he added.
Alvion Kimball, owner of the Orland House Bed & Breakfast, was coordinator of the fundraising campaign. For him, there wasn’t a choice. “We’re keeping the lights on in downtown Bucksport. Literally,” he said.
George MacLeod, owner of MacLeod’s Restaurant in Bucksport, also attended that initial meeting. “The Alamo is the glue of the town. It creates critical mass. It is one of the most important assets that we have in our town, and is one of the reasons people come here from out of town,” he said, adding, “We all decided we [weren’t] going to let this happen. We knew we would underwrite [the fundraising] one way or another.”
The campaign started in the last week of February. The committee thought it would take three to six months to raise the projected amount. Funding was moving forward at a slow, but steady pace, when an extraordinary thing happened.
The Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation became aware of the campaign through a community connection. The organization made a donation of a matching grant of $25,000 in order to incentivize further, faster giving. Fundraising efforts, large and small, answered that call and suddenly NHF and the Alamo had raised $50,000 by mid-March.
“It was so unexpected. So unbelievable,” said Donnell of the contribution.
A week later, the King Foundation provided a second challenge grant of $25,000 more, in order to provide continued support for future programming and the mission of the Alamo overall. Again, the community answered, and to date the Save the Alamo campaign has raised more than $100,000, including the King grants.
All of this community support has inspired the formation of a new group, the “Friends of the Alamo,” which has been created to provide new infrastructure for events moving forward. The hope is to forge new cultural relationships and provide new programming, such as live acts, readings, and perhaps even simulcast live events like the Camden Conference, The Met, or even the Academy Awards, complete with a red carpet.
While most of the new resources will be focused on the Alamo moving forward, some will be dedicated to finally trimming out the windows and adding some insulation, completing the surround sound, and adding “real” air conditioning, instead of a single unit sticking out of a window. “The Alamo is a bare bones operation. It has been focused on presenting films, not aesthetics,” said Kimball.
The fundraising campaign continues, but is now dedicated to keeping the Alamo vital moving forward. Contributions will be put into a revolving fund, meant for bringing in live acts and unique programming. “It’s great that it’s been saved,” Weiss said. “To keep it, it’s got to be used.”