CONWAY — Plant a cultural seed and nurture it with some matching federal/local grants, and there’s no telling what kind of economic and social development will spin off from the effort.
That was part of the story that was shared with and advocated by U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) during a tour Friday, March 10, of Mountain Top Music Center in the reawakening Conway Village.
Mountain Top board members chair Judy Kennedy, Jeanne and Dave Mason, Frank Benesh and executive director George Wiese led the tour of the 1930s era building that was restored and renovated through the help of community donations and matching grants in 2019.
Shaheen, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, visited the center at the renovated Bolduc Block on Main Street in Conway Village to highlight federal funding delivered last year to the organization through the Northern Border Regional Commission.
A non-profit community music school and performance venue, Mountain Top has been the recipient of two NBRC grants.
The first was in 2017 in the amount of $200,000 for the initial $3 million construction costs of the non-profit center. The second was in 2022 in the amount of $125,000 for stage and sound systems.
Both were matching grants, according to Benesh and Dave Mason, who are treasurers for Mountain Top.
“The Northern Border Regional Commission is a crucial economic driver for New Hampshire’s North Country, providing investments and support to rural businesses, spurring job creation and lifting up important infrastructure projects,” said Shaheen.
“I’ve fought hard to support the NBRC’s mission and ensure New Hampshire can continue to benefit from this important federal program, which is why I consistently work to secure the NBRC’s reauthorization and funding so local projects, like the work underway at Mountain Top Music Center, have the resources they need for completion,” said Shaheen, adding, “I’ll keep championing NBRC's important work and investments in the North Country.”
Shaheen has led efforts in Congress that support and invest in the NBRC, and included her bipartisan legislation to reauthorize and expand the NBRC’s reach in the Farm Bill that was signed into law in 2018.
With support from Rep. Annie Kuster (D-N.H.), the legislation expanded the NBRC to include Cheshire County and communities in Belknap County.
Shaheen said the NBRC is a key economic driver across New Hampshire, supporting job creation and community development in the economically vulnerable parts of the state. NBRC investments bolster projects in infrastructure, outdoor recreation, health care access and more.
The Shaheen-led NBRC Reauthorization Act of 2023 would reauthorize the NBRC program for another 10 years.
“Because the Farm Bill has the reauthorization of the Northern Borders Regional Commission, we're here today to highlight the good work of the NBRC and the kinds of projects like this that make such a huge difference in communities,” Shaheen told the Sun.
During the hourlong tour of the music center, Shaheen listened to comments from Kennedy and Jeanne Mason about the center’s projects to improve the Majestic Theatre and Cafe.
The sound system will be enhanced in the theater, and the bar in the cafe will be expanded to allow for better service. In time, a kitchen may be added for food service but that has not been finalized, according to Benesh.
During the tour of the theater, cafe and upstairs music classrooms, Kennedy, Jeanne Mason and Wiese told Shaheen about how the center uses music to build community through group study and performance, shared listening, and inter-generational, multi-cultural musical communication.
They noted that more than 350 people participate in lessons, classes, workshops and community ensembles provided each year.
They also shared how the restored Majestic Theatre (a former movie theater that was damaged in a fire and shuttered for many years) hosts several events throughout the year such as Jonathan Sarty’s Cold River Radio Shows, sold-out concerts by national artists like Livingston Taylor and others.
Mountain Top has a Friday night jazz cafe series from 7-9 p.m., which is limited to 50 patrons each Friday night and is serviced by volunteers, with staff members donating their tips to the music programs.
The Friday night series features artists such as local musicians Al Hospers, Mike Hathaway and Heather Pierson and visiting musicians as well.
Shaheen was told how the restoration of the Majestic that was damaged by fire in April 2005 is part of other transformations in the village.
Those include the relocation of town hall in 2021 from Center Conway to the former Bank of New Hampshire building on Main Street across from Mountain Top.
Other factors include the relocation also from Center Conway of the Conway Recreation Department in 2019 to the Kennett Middle School.
This year, the Station Bistro opened just down the street.
The completion of the first phase of the state Department of Transportation's Main Street reconstruction project has also improved the village landscape.
Also on hand for Friday's tour was Steve Fortier, administrator of rural economic development for the state's Department of Business and Economic Affairs; Lois Burleigh, Mountain Top vice chair; state Rep. David Paige (D-Conway); Chris Saunders, federal co-chair of the Northern Borders Commission; Mountain Top trustees Ray Mitchell and Laura Riggs-Mitchell; Chuck Henderson of Shaheen's office; and Rich Grogan, executive director of Northern Borders.
Earlier in the day, Shaheen visited Mac Hill Maple Farm in Tamworth as Maple Sugaring Month gets under way. There, Shaheen heard from maple producers about issues facing New Hampshire’s maple industry, including the upcoming reauthorization of the Farm Bill.
Along with this discussion, Mac Hill Maple Farm owners Will and Anne Marie Streeter gave the senator a brief tour of the sugar house and the maple production process.
Mac Hill Maple will be one of the many local sugaring houses participating in the New Hampshire Maple Producers Association’s annual New Hampshire Maple Weekend, March 18-19, with open houses all weekend. For more, see Saturday's cover story in the Sun.
For more about Mountain Top Music, go to mountaintopmusic.org.