For a detailed (and very interesting) history of the Sandisfield Arts Center, please view this chapter (Adobe PDF) from Sandisfield Then and Now: 1762-2012 by Ron Bernard.
The Sandisfield Arts Center is managed by a volunteer board of directors assisted by additional volunteers and generous donors.
In 1839, the Sandisfield Arts Center building in began an 80+ year run as a Baptist meeting house. In the next 75, it served as an orthodox synagogue (the only known rural orthodox synagogue on record in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts). In 1995 the building was reborn as a performing arts center. For the full story of how this came about, see this excerpt from Ron Bernard’s Sandisfield Then and Now. https://sandisfieldartscenter.org/files/TheSandisfieldArtsCenter.pdf
Since that time, the Sandisfield Arts Center has evolved into a professional non-profit organization recognized by the Massachusetts Historical Commission, the National Trust and the public for our dedication to preserving this historically-important building and rehabilitating it for use as a performing arts center. In 2006, the building was accepted on the National Registry of Historic Places as “The Montville Baptist Church.” Visitors now come from all over Berkshire, Hampden & Litchfield Counties, as well as New York, Boston and Connecticut for our unique, quality performances.
The legal name of the organization is the Sandisfield Arts and Restoration Committee, abbreviated as SArC. The small-town, grass-roots commitment that gave birth to SArC in 1995 is still present today, as the organization depends almost entirely on volunteers. These dedicated folks meet, administer, collate, clean, bake, paint, host, donate and perform their way through tough economic times, long, cold winters, and all the challenges that small, non-profit arts organizations face on a daily basis.
Equally impressive is the financial commitment our donors have made to saving this unique building and helping the Arts Center expand its programming each year.
Finally, SArC has helped bring various segments of the community together in the spirit of volunteering and in the enjoyment of the arts. Many weekend residents had owned homes in Sandisfield for over a decade without having met any of their full-time neighbors. Now, they serve side-by-side on volunteer committees. The Town of Sandisfield and all its civic groups have been very supportive and we are grateful for the variety of help we receive.
(from the SArC website, https://sandisfieldartscenter.org/about-us/)
These milestones trace the history and accomplishments that have brought us to where we are today.
1984 – a group of town residents, former members and descendants of the Congregation B’Nai Abraham, confronted with the prospect that the deteriorating synagogue — established by Eastern European Orthodox Jews who acquired it in the 1920s from the Montville Baptist Church — would be lost, decided to donate the building for community use.
1986 – steering committee (Sandisfield Arts & Restoration Committee, Inc.-SArC) formed to raise funds by staging play readings, children’s talent shows, musical performances, and holiday events. During the late ’80’s and early ’90’s, volunteers cleaned and painted the interior and cleared brush to make way for parking.
1995 – B’Nai Abraham trustees legally convey the property “as is” to the non-profit entity (Sandisfield Arts and Restoration Committtee, or SArC) “for charitable, educational and/or civic purposes.” Executive and standing committees formed, updated bylaws and expanded the board to include members with fundraising, planning and grant writing expertise.
1998 – The National Trust awards a planning grant funding a feasibility study for the building’s restoration. Based on this study, SArC secures Massachusetts Historic Commission Matching Grant of $250,000 to undertake major infrastructure repairs that included the roof and belfry, partial new wiring and stabilization of the building’s stone foundation.
2000 to 2003 – SArC undertakes a major donor gift capital campaign including naming opportunities (Adopt a Pew and the Bill Crofut Stage) raising about $250,000 from the community thus matching the state grant. Major renovations including foundation repair and interior work completed in 2003
2006 – SArC awarded the Massachusetts Historical Commission’s prestigious Preservation Award for the arts center’s adaptive reuse of the building. Later that year, the former Montville Baptist Church and B’Nai Abraham Synagogue was accepted on The National Register of Historic Places.
2006 thru the Present – The Arts Center continues serving as a source of community spirit and civic pride by featuring the visual and performing arts, educational and cultural programs serving audiences from Sandisfield and communities beyond. Audiences enjoy art exhibitions and performance events that continue to bring volunteers, community residents and visitors together.
2012 – Awarded a $12,500 Massachusetts Cultural Council Facilities Grant that SArC succeeded in matching. The Arts Center, in collaboration with Sandisfield’s 250th anniversary (1762) celebration, created and staged “The Rascals and Other Tales,” an original play based on historical research of storied personalities and events in town. This initial production led to the formation of The Sandisfield Players, a community-based company of actors. The Players repertory has grown in recognition and popularity and having staged “Our Town” in 2014, the company performed this play in Cornwall England at the Minack Theater in June 2016.
2013 & 2014 – Successfully launched a $75,000 fundraising campaign that resulted in installing a lift for physically challenged and elderly patrons, comfortable movable chairs to permit flexible use of the main performance space, removal and retention of original church pews and recognition of expanded opportunities for using the arts center. This includes hosting dinner and cafe seating events, expanded programming and potential for private rentals.
Over many years, we also have received annual grants from local chapters of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, including the Sandisfield Cultural Council, to support our programs.