January 10, 2008

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Fate of the Annicchiarico
Community and Concord Music Club asked to step up for stage
By Heidi Masek hmasek@hippopress.com

The 150-seat Annicchiarico tucked inside a Concord Housing Authority building on Thompson Street needs attention. The heating system is ancient, some seats are ripped and walls will need to be fixed after the CHA finishes a pipe project.

The issues are minor compared to recent years’ projects at older Concord venues such as the Capitol Center for the Arts and Concord City Auditorium. The Audi requires massive volunteer efforts for maintainence. That kind of manpower, as well as funding, had dropped at Annicchiarico.

The Concord Music Club held a lease (for which they pay no rent) for the venue for about 45 years. Since it expired in 2006, the club seems to have a month-to-month lease, said Jiffie Rainie, current president of the Concord Music Club. She’s lived out of state for five years. After the CHA gave the club an eviction notice in December, later extended through January, people started to rally around the stage. Rainie was joined by CHA executive director John Hoyt at a public meeting about the situation Thursday, Jan. 3.

Hoyt expected about 20 people, yet more than 60 came. Several Concord arts organizations were represented, including the Concord Community Music School, Capitol Center for the Arts, Concord Community Players, Somewhat North of Boston film festival, the Nevers Band, the Strathspey and Reel Society and music teachers.

The Annicchiarico offers an intimate size for small performances, and rent is cheap — $75 for free events, $150 for ticketed ones. If you are a member of the club, rates may be lower.

The Concord Music Club was started in 1900 by women musicians for the study and enjoyment of music. In 1966, when the Kennedy Building was finished, the club began a lease for the Angela Annicchiarico Memorial Music Theatre — it was named for a prominent piano teacher who died in a fire. The original intent of placing the venue there was to provide entertainment for the residents.

Originally, the club held monthly programs like those the city’s recreation department now organizes, Rainie said. Apparently, members dropped programming and focused on scholarships in recent years. The club has been taking in about $5,000 annually in fees while spending about $7,000 or $8,000 on theater costs. Part of the problem is a lack of recruitment and collection of membership dues, Rainie said.

The CHA paid for utilities, cleaning and repairs, and collected keys and booked performances for decades. In 2003 the club took over cleaning, and in May 2006 it asked CHA to “entertain proposals” from other groups to manage the theater. The lease is set up so the CHA owns the studs, while the club owns the contents, which they had gradually updated. The CHA asked the club to leave the contents including seats and turn over rental profits so the CHA could expedite repairs. Then the club decided to take over all theater responsibilities. When the rest of the building underwent upgrades that included energy efficiency and separate utility meters, the CHA board realized the club couldn’t afford to heat the venue, which uses a 1967 furnace. They issued an eviction notice.

“We needed to do something about it. Maybe [an eviction notice] wasn’t the nicest way of doing it, but it woke up not only them, not only us, but the community as a whole that you can’t take things for granted,” Hoyt said.

The CHA wants to support the local theater community, but its mission is operating affordable housing. It supports housing for 500 families using dwindling federal funding. CHA people aren’t experts at running theaters, Hoyt said.

Hoyt said the CHA is not planning to act on the current eviction notice. The club will work on an action plan to prioritize repairs, pay for them and otherwise sustain the theater. Hoyt will attend club meetings for CHA’s board and Rainie will attend that board to keep communication open.

“The housing authority will help to a degree — we want it to be a community theater, so we have to allow the community to pull this off,” Hoyt said. The CHA won’t close the theater, but an eviction notice was required if they need to find a different management group.

“The Music Club can do this if we have community support,” Rainie said. Several people filled out forms and contact cards to help at the Jan. 3 meeting.

“Arts organizations attract visitors and help define the community as an ideal place to relocate, particularly for young creative people, and that’s a proven benefit to a regional economy,” said Ric Waldman of the Capitol Center. Staff there will share expertise where they can, he said.

Club treasurer Dennis Doucette said he thinks people are moving in the right direction. The Annicchiarico’s mission was being met over the years, but a communication gap had caused a problem. An infusion of money needs to come from somewhere to update the facility’s climate control system. The club has a net of about $45,000, some of which is restricted for programming. They’ve given about $14,000 in scholarships.

One idea voiced was to form an umbrella board of venue users so other groups can cover for less active ones when needed.

Rainie hopes repairs can be finished by the end of 2008. She doesn’t think a new group needs to be formed.

Hoyt said the effort will probably need research about Annicchiarico’s target users for a business plan. There is no crossover behind the stage, and dressing rooms are small, he said.

Another question for whoever ends up responsible for Annicchiarico will be whether volunteers can cover all duties or if someone should be paid to handle booking and maintenance. Currently, maintenance falls on Doug Osborne, who has been doing it for decades.

A secondary club goal is rebuilding membership, Rainie said. There were about 150 last year; probably about 50 are active. Rainie hopes scholarship recipients and new residents will join. She hopes the club will eventually be able to produce a few concerts each year.