Mother-son team set out to create arts and event center in Dublin

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    Mary "Molly" McDowell and her son Chris Keck, hope to open their new arts and event center in Dublin before the end of the year. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

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    Mary "Molly" McDowell and her son Chris Keck, hope to open their new arts and event center in Dublin before the end of the year. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

  • Mary “Molly” McDowell and her son, Chris Keck, hope to open their new arts and event center in Dublin before the end of the year. Staff photo by Ashley Saari

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 9/21/2021 1:31:36 PM

Five months into the COVID-19 pandemic, Mary “Molly” McDowell needed a quarantine project.

She didn’t expect that project to be the complete overhaul of a former industrial building in Dublin into a light, airy, and open structure geared towards creating, teaching and hosting local artists, but, as she joked during a tour of the future home of her arts and events center, she rarely does things halfway.

McDowell said she wasn’t looking to buy commercial real estate at the time. She and her son, Chris Keck, were looking for a potential house or apartment for Keck, who was moving back to the area at the start of the pandemic. But she saw that the former Window Master building, located on Main Street in Dublin, was for sale, and decided to go view it.

“I wasn’t looking to start an arts center,” McDowell said. “But when I saw this building, that I’d always admired, I fell in love with the building’s potential. I decided to do it. I think people who love creative life find a way to do it, and this was my way. The opportunity train pulls into the station, and you either make the leap or don’t. Chris and I took that leap.”

Keck agreed to partner in the adventure, not only serving as the organizer and host for future events, but also getting the space prepared to realize the ultimate vision. He said like his mother, he needed a quarantine project.

“This is what I’ve always done, but in a much calmer space,” Keck said. “It’s something that answered the call for both our wants.”

Keck has also been leading the renovation of the space. When the process started, he said, it didn’t look like much of an events center – equipment from its industrial days had been torn from the walls, and the building needed a large amount of work. Though the space is mid-renovation, touches of what it will eventually become already shine through – instead of steel beams, whole trees, imported from Maine, make up the first floor supports. Bittersweet, pulled up from the property, has been crafted into an artful banister for the first floor stairwell. Fireplace nooks have been set into two spots on the first floor.

McDowell is an artist herself, and was taken with the idea of a new arts hub for the area, which could fill holes left by the closure of the Sharon Arts Center as a gallery space and host for arts classes, and Keck comes from a background of managing restaurants and social clubs. The downstairs of the building has large open spaces, suitable for receptions or events, which Keck would manage, or large performances. In the upstairs, smaller rooms create spaces for arts classes or meeting spaces for small groups.

McDowell said the vision of what the building could be was evident to her right away.

“I could see it so clearly from the beginning,” McDowell said. “There’s a lot of energy behind that. This was a place that could bring together the things I’ve loved my whole life.”

Local artists threw their enthusiasm behind the project, writing letters of support while McDowell was going through the approval process with the town.

Nora Fiffer, co-artistic director of Firelight Theatre Workshop, a local theater company based in Peterborough called the center a “gift to the community.”

“This will be a space for art making, as well as performance and gathering, which is so necessary for the health and vitality of the region,” Fiffer said.

Firelight Theatre does work in both stage theater and film, and Fiffer said she was interested in using the center as a possible rehearsal or performance space. But she was also excited just to see a space dedicated to the arts come back to the region.

“Really great art can come from a place of community,” Fiffer said. “That’s something this region has prioritized. By creating spaces for arts, you’re saying you prioritize artists and want to create places for them. It’s part of why this is such an attractive place to visit. Without a space, it’s hard to share music, art, or theater. By building this space, it’s an invitation to artists and the community.”

McDowell and Keck plan to open the center before the end of the year, with expected “soft opening” events this fall. If you would like to be on an email list for updates on the center, or for more information, contact McDowell at mvmcd@aol.com.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.


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