Updated Dec. 9
The Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival (MVFF) has struck a deal with the Vineyard Preservation Trust to lease the second-floor theater of the historic Grange Hall in West Tisbury. The theater will be used collaboratively as a “year-round home for film, education, music, theater, and storytelling,” according to a release.
“Our focus is to infuse life into the landmarks in our care,” Nevette Previd, executive director of the Vineyard Preservation Trust, said in the release. “The Grange Hall has a history of community and cultural events dating back to 1859. The collaboration with the MVFF is an exciting way for us to continue the property’s legacy as a vibrant gathering space for West Tisbury and the Vineyard.”
“When I was young, the arts lifted me up. Movies bonded me with friends and showed me the world. The theater gave me confidence. Music united me with people I never expected,” Brian Ditchfield, MVFF executive director, said in the release. “I’m excited to have this opportunity to give back to my community, work with local artists, and amplify diverse voices.”
The lease agreement also includes use of the Old West Tisbury Library on Music Street. This will be used for MVFF office space and film production.
Representatives from Vineyard Preservation Trust and the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival presented the Grange Hall lease agreement to the West Tisbury select board during a Wednesday evening meeting.
Previd said there will be a long-term lease with the film festival with a collaborative effort to “winterize” the hall and make it more comfortable for year-round use, alongside “bringing life, bringing art and film and et cetera to the building for the community.” Previd said this plan is in line with the hall’s traditional use as the Island’s oldest performing arts facility. Additionally, Previd said using the hall for the film festival’s activities on the second floor satisfies the original charter of when the trust bought the building in 1997, which was in reference to theatrical performances, film, or “other desirable community purposes.” Previd said the “current partners” who use the first floor of the hall, such as the Artisans Festival or the World Market, will be honored on the first floor and potentially share use of the second floor.
Brian Ditchfield, Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival executive director, said the partnership for the hall was like a “childhood dream come true” because of the various performances he had participated in and films he watched there.
“Our goal is really to revitalize it for cultural and community use without taking away from West Tisbury’s quiet, rural character,” Ditchfield said. He said he has reached out to neighbors and heard positive and excited comments, alongside some concerns.
West Tisbury select board member Cynthia Mitchell praised the film festival and the trust’s efforts toward the hall. “In general, it sounds great,” she said. “I’m sure there’ll be bumps in the road, but I think it’s a great partnership.”
West Tisbury select board chair Skipper Manter expressed some concerns regarding the film festival’s activities and its frequency. “It’s [the area around the hall] zoned residential. It’s in the heart of our historic district. Noise, traffic, impact … very important things,” he said. “I assume you’d be looking for nighttime activities for the movies, which, to me, kind of goes against what the neighborhood has established there.”
Manter said that there used to be a comedy night held at the hall, but this was only once a week during its run, while the film festival’s activities would be year-round.
Ditchfield acknowledged that these are valid concerns, but he did not think there would be a large impact, and the film festival will work with the neighbors regarding their concerns. Previd said the hall’s second floor has a capacity of 125 people. Ditchfield said the seating will be spaced for COVID.
“You’re a popular organization, and the people will come,” Manter said. “Historic, residential. You’re making it commercial.”
“With all due respect, the building has always been a community space and had been in use year-round. Granted, it’s been used sparingly year-round because of the infrastructure of the building. It’s a barn,” Previd responded.
Some members of the audience made comments in support of the hall’s use by the MVFF. Lauren Silber brought up the comedy shows that were sold out, and Susanna Sturgis said there were films shown there before.
Manter said the issue will be looked over again in the future.
Reporter Eunki Seonwoo contributed to this story. Updated to include comments from the West Tisbury select board meeting.