Katharine Cornell’s intent was clear


To the Editor:

This letter was also sent to the Tisbury select board.

For the last dozen years, I have been a trustee of the Peter C. Cornell Trust, a charitable trust founded by Peter C. Cornell, my great-uncle and father of my godmother, the actress Katharine Cornell. I have long been familiar with the gift that Katharine Cornell arranged, through

the trust, that established a venue for theatrical and cultural events in the town of Tisbury, which she loved (and where I visited her in my youth at her Vineyard Haven home).

Consequently, I was startled to read in The Martha’s Vineyard Times of the bizarre decision by the town of Tisbury to turn the Katharine Cornell Theater and related space into administrative offices. The article suggests that the town’s official view is that the terms of her gift did not require that the space thereby made possible remain a performance and cultural venue, but this is pedantry: Her intent was clear.

I regret that town administrative staff have to work in cramped spaces, but administrative convenience hardly justifies a net reduction in community quality of life. How is this good public service? And how does it in any way respect Katharine Cornell’s wishes, generosity, and memory?

Stephen E. Cornell
Tucson, Ariz.


  1. I loved showing films at the KCT for 10 years before the MV Film Center was born. It had its limitations, but it was a home that was always appreciated by the audiences that filled the space for our films and festival.

    It’s unfortunate the KCT is no longer used for cultural events – yet I’m pretty sure the demand for its use as theater was also limited. I know of no organization that was put out by the town’s decision. Perhaps it can be restored to some cultural events in the future.

  2. To list only a few who started their music careers, both by learning how to produce a concert, and then playing the show, Emmy Award Recipient, Max Butler, Willy Mason, Nina Violet, Joe Keenan, Anthony Esposito, Miguel DeBraganca. Tris Israel can tell you about the Friday Night Live Concerts. Also, the KCT Concerts produced by Greg Harcourt, Grammy Award Winner, John Cruz, Stan Strickland. Countless productions by ITW, directed by Lee Fiero, The Charter School plays, the shows produced by Focus, the camp on Lamberts Cove. And these are just a few.

  3. Richard: Before the pandemic, the Vineyard Haven Public Library (which is trying hard to build its own gathering space entirely with private funding) often used the Katharine Cornell Theatre for programs where attendance was anticipated to be high. John Creelan’s Arts and Society used the space for their Bloomsday performances. Schools have used that theater for theatrical performances. KCT Concerts brought a stunning array of world-class Celtic musicians to play there. The list goes on and on, even if they weren’t on your personal radar.

    And “organizations” are not the only things at stake. Individual humans matter too. Dozens of independent Island musicians have performed their most memorable concerts in this theatre — and thousands of Island residents have attended those concerts. Many of those experiences sprang out of the availability of such a space, and wouldn’t have happened at all without this important, intimate cultural venue.

    As you yourself noted, the Katharine Cornell Theatre has been the birthplace of many great collaborations including (after ten years of evolving at KCT) your own MV Film Center. Imagine where you’d be if you hadn’t had the opportunity to test your model before building your own permanent space. Let’s not close the door on similar opportunities in the future.

    During the pandemic, Tisbury took over one of the Island’s most important cultural spaces and used it for bureaucratic functions. The pandemic is now in retreat and the Island is starving for community and artistic life. It’s time the town got its soul back.

    • I am afraid I can’t disagree more with Mr. Waters comment that the pandemic is in retreat. Wake up Dan the pandemic is with us still and will be for a long time.

  4. Amen to all of the above. What it appears to be is the Town Administrator making a decision to use the space as a pawn to emphasize a desire by the town to build a new town hall. There are ample options to move the administrative space including on Main Street where citizens would be able to engage with the town more easily. This has all the earmarks of a heist.

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