×

ConVal arts center to be named after Thornton Wilder

  • Thornton Wilder, far right, working with Peterborough Players actors in the summer of 1940 on the first Players' production of his Pulitzer Prize winning play "Our Town." Peterborough Players' archives—



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Thursday, January 17, 2019 6:27PM

Fill the Void announced a name change Tuesday for its proposed ConVal High School performing arts center building.

Originally dubbed the Contoocook Valley Visual and Performing Arts Center, the proposed center has been renamed the Thornton Wilder Center for the Arts.

“The Wilder Family is deeply honored to add Thornton Wilder’s name to a performing arts center in the works at Contoocook Valley Regional High School in Peterborough, New Hampshire,” Wilder’s nephew and literary executor Tappan Wilder said in the Tuesday announcement.

This would be the first performing arts center named after Wilder, Rob Eichler, board president of the Thornton Wilder Center for the Arts, said Wednesday.

“We are extremely grateful for the naming rights and endorsement from the Wilder Family,” Eichler said in the announcement.

The impetus to change the name for the proposed arts center came out of feedback from a feasibility study conducted about two years ago by Fill the Void, Eichler said Wednesday. The Contoocook Valley Visual and Performing Arts Center was found to be long and confusing and likely to hamper fundraising efforts, he said.

So the board started researching new names for the center and hit on Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Thornton Wilder, who as a frequent MacDowell Colony resident both wrote in Peterborough as well as was inspired by Peterborough and the Monadnock Region as a whole in his work, including his most famous play “Our Town.”

He even had connection to the Peterborough Players, working as an adviser to the theater’s first production of “Our Town” in 1941.

Naming it after Wilder “ties the arts center to the region’s high regard for the arts and its history, its legacy in the arts,” Eichler said. “And also something the students could relate to and be proud of.”

In researching Wilder, the board learned that not only was Wilder a literary giant, but had a deep connection to the region as well as education as a whole. It made sense to put his name on an arts center that would also serve and further arts education in the area, Eichler said.

Eichler said the board reached out to the Wilder Foundation to talk about the idea and through happenstance the Thornton Wilder Third International Convention was held in Peterborough this summer, giving the board a chance to meet with Tappan Wilder and his sister Catharine Wilder Guiles in person.

“It was serendipitous,” Eichler said. “I am absolutely thrilled that not only did Tappen and his sister allow us to use his name but … the kindness … they offer us so much in terms of being thrilled in being able to support us in this way.”

“(Tappan Wilder) is also moved by the opportunity to tie the Wilder name with something that will remain with prominence in the region and in the region where Thornton had been impacted and inspired as a writer. … I think the Wilder Foundation is underscoring the importance of education in the arts that they believe their uncle would have appreciated,” Eichler said. “Coming to know the Wilder family, I realized that we (as a community) have just as much a responsibility to uphold the name as they have.”

In the announcement Tappan Wilder said, the family is thrilled that Thornton Wilder “will now have a permanent presence in the place that inspired a piece of work considered a masterpiece of dramatic literature.” Adding the family also celebrates this naming for a greater reason: “Thornton Wilder Center for the Arts honors a writer who was famous, in and beyond the classroom, for encouraging the work of other artists. Long may the Center inspire those who dream, create, walk, and perform.”

Fill the Void is a grassroots effort that was started to address the need for a performing arts center at ConVal High School and plans to build the arts center through private donations. During a presentation to the school board in August, Eichler said if built in 2020 the estimated construction costs would likely be about $8 million.

The plan includes a 17,100 square foot space, with a stage large enough to accommodate an 80-piece concert band, and seating for up to 400 people.

Eichler said the Thornton Wilder Center for the Arts is being planned to support the region’s thriving theatre, music, visual and literary arts scene. It is often surprising to people, Eichler said, “I’ve met many people that say ‘Hey this place is known for its arts and there’s no center.’”

Plans for the arts center include a flexible space that would accommodate both a large band concert as well as a small intimate folk concert. According to the announcement, the conceptual designs by Dan Scully and Dave Drasba of Scully/Architects in Keene and theatre designer Tony Forman of Nextstage Design in New Haven, Connecticut, are based on flexible, adaptable space that can accommodate performances from large-scale concerts to small-scale theatre and music events.

Eichler said the board is currently working to craft a plan to launch the project’s capital campaign this year. He said the board currently does not have a timeline for construction, but said it is likely the board would have a better understanding of the timeline once the capital campaign is underway.

You can learn more about the project at www.thorntonwildercenterforthearts.org.

Meghan Pierce is digital editor at the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript. You can reach her at mpierce@ledgertranscript.com.