Criterion Theatre Executive Director Eli Mellen plans a robust calendar of movies and events once the Bar Harbor landmark opens again this spring. The interior of the theater, as well as the roof, is undergoing extensive renovations. PHOTO BY ROBERT LEVIN

Criterion leaders envision community hub

BAR HARBOR — The man charged with running the revamped Criterion Theatre when it reopens this spring envisions overseeing a vital, engaged space for people from across all spectrums of the Mount Desert Island area community.

Executive Director Eli Mellen said during a recent tour of the building’s interior that fostering the feeling that the theater is an important hub of the area is one of the primary goals held by himself and the nonprofit’s board of directors.

“First and foremost, we want it to be a space that the community can use again,” Mellen said. “One of the primary things I am working on … is to make it as exciting a place as possible for as many people as we can.”

Programming at the Criterion will be approximately 75 percent movies and 25 percent arts. The latter could consist of live music, local theater, dance and other performance-oriented events, said Michael Boland, president of the Bar Harbor Jazz Festival, the nonprofit group that owns the theater building.

“In general, we are going to be that big Hollywood movie house that the Criterion has been for the past 85 years,” Boland said. “We want to be the performing arts and movie house for the island and for the whole of Hancock County.”

Boland said the theater plans to show blockbuster movies all through the tourist season. The profits generated by movie ticket sales will be used to support the broad range of community events that supporters of the theater have expressed interest in.

The local performing arts scene is growing, and Mellen thinks the Criterion is in the ideal position to become the center of it. He envisions a robust calendar of events filling the 25 percent of time that the theater is not showing movies, he said.

“The board does really appreciate the space as a jewel of the island,” Mellen said. “It feels that the arts are about to make a resurgence, in a really new and real way in the area. And we would love to be able to offer the space as the beating heart of the resurgence.”

A number of renovations have been underway this winter at the art deco style theater. Extensive mold remediation is complete. The air inside the theater is clean and dry. Roof work is ongoing. Portions of the stage have been rebuilt and the entire stage re-floored. Plans are in the works for restroom renovations to make the structure compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Another project underway is the renovation of the theater’s aging seats, including new upholstery and stuffing on many. Boland said that after some rows of seating are removed and rearranged, most of the seats in the center section will gain 50 percent more leg room.

As a Master of Philosophy student at College of the Atlantic, Mellen studied ideas of community, and gained skills in nonprofit management from a recent stint at the Abbe Museum. He is genuinely interested in the challenges of running the theater, from grant writing to programming. Most of all, he said, he wants people to see the Criterion as an active place.

“Something that I am really excited to try and bring out in this space … is that it’s not just a passive experience,” Mellen said. “You come, you interact with your neighbors if you want to, and you’re involved in the community.”

One of the projects he is working on now is to set up theatrical tours of the historic theater which will focus on a broad spectrum of Maine arts, not just local history. Members of Bass Harbor’s Mohawk Collective are being tapped to lead the tours. The theater is also in discussions with the group about putting on a family entertainment show regularly throughout the season, he said.

The Bar Harbor Jazz Festival took ownership of the Criterion in the fall of 2014 after an anonymous $2 million donation enabled the group to buy the building outright. The group continues to fundraise to meet further renovation needs.


Robert Levin

Robert Levin

Former reporter Robert Levin covered the people, businesses, governmental and nonprofit agencies of Bar Harbor. [email protected]
Robert Levin

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