PEABODY — The Northeast Arc is used to breaking down walls in a metaphoric sense.
But on Thursday morning, the North Shore nonprofit was literally knocking down walls with sledgehammers as construction began on its new Black Box Theater at the ArcWorks Community Art Center on Foster Street.
By the beginning of next year, the theater should be open for performances through the nonprofit, and for the community at large, according to Tom Gould, the city councilor serving as chairman of the Friend of the Black Box Theater.
“This will really bring the face of Arc into the community, and we couldn’t be more excited,” said Gould. “This will also inject energy and dollars into Peabody’s downtown.”
Northeast Arc helps people with disabilities become full participants in the community. By renovating the space at the rear of ArcWorks Community Art Center and transforming it into a community theater, there will be space for Northeast Arc programs, and the Peabody and North Shore arts and theater scene in general.
Fundraising for the project kicked off last fall, and so far, Northeast Arc has raised $300,000 of the $500,000 required through a Patronicity crowd-sourcing campaign, in partnership with Mass Development, and donations from individuals and businesses, according to Gould. That allows Arc to proceed with the first phase of the project while it raises the additional $200,000 required to complete it.
If the fundraising and work goes as planned, which includes the stage and lighting for the second phase, the initial performances could take place early next year, Gould said. Fundraising did get a boost when Gold announced a $10,000 challenge gift from a couple who chooses to remain anonymous.
“We have worked very hard in the downtown, and the Black Box Theater is a central component of all our plans,” said Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt, Jr., who was one of those who got to take a crack at the walls with a sledgehammer for the ceremonial wall breaking ceremony.
Jo Ann Simons, Northeast Arc’s CEO, has said the nonprofit programs work to serve the needs of the community. She said the goal of a black box theater is to take a simple space that can be used by a variety of performers and performance groups.
On Wednesday, one of the Northeast Arc’s success stories, the Breaking Grounds coffee shop on Main Street, celebrated its first anniversary.
When the renovations are completed, the theater will provide employment opportunities for local actors, musicians, set builders, ticket sellers and concession workers. The space will also provide recreational opportunities for as many as 7,800 local youths and adults annually.
“I think it will be a great addition to the already expanding vibrancy of downtown Peabody,” said Simons. With a number of new restaurants on the way to the downtown, Simons said she is thrilled that Northeast Arc will be able to provide the kind of entertainment venue the city needs.