Events to aid Holley Hall sound upgrade

BRISTOL — Over the past 10 years, efforts to improve the problematic acoustics in Bristol’s Holley Hall have been launched repeatedly and run aground. A new campaign — spearheaded by local business leaders, performers and civic activists, together with the Bristol Recreation Department and the 5-Town Friends of the Arts — is under way, determined to persevere until the funds get raised and the job gets done.
“We have groups that just won’t play here because of what’s happening with sound,” said Bristol Recreation Director Darla Senecal. “For music or for spoken word, it’s just really hard. Midd Winds, for example, is a local group who comes to play here. They’re such a big group, and the acoustics are so difficult for them. They love playing here, but it’s hard for them. We hear that from a lot of performers.”
The “Let’s Hear It for Holley Hall” campaign is being led by Senecal, as a representative for the town; musicians Patrick Fitzsimmons and Rick Ceballos; and community leaders Deb Cossaart and Carol Wells. The group aims to raise $60,000 to revamp the 131-year-old hall’s acoustics.
The campaign is already well armed with a sound study and plans for acoustic renovation. Bristol resident Martin Hawkes, whose Tree Ridge Enterprise is well known for its high-level acoustic modeling and installation of sophisticated sound systems, has already analyzed the hall’s acoustics and, free of charge, created an audio improvement plan.
So for now, the campaign’s primary focus is fundraising.
“We’re looking at being able to hold more concerts, hold more shows, possibly bring in some more revenue because of that, and to be able to host things for community members that they might want to have but are reticent to use this space because the sound is so poor,” said Senecal.
“And while this is about the arts, it’s also about community,” she continued. “We have folks who don’t come to town meeting simply because they can’t hear what’s being said. And we’re trying to respond to that. We know that there’s a demographic that can’t participate in town government because of the acoustics issues. So we’re looking at ways that we can make that better.”
The campaign is hosting two fundraisers this coming weekend: a contradance on Friday, Nov. 20, and a “Moth Radio Hour” style storytelling event on Sunday, Nov. 22.
Caller for the contradance will be Starksboro resident Lausanne Allen. Music will be provided by renowned Vermont fiddler and Monkton resident Pete Sutherland and his group, Pete’s Posse. The dance will take place at Holley Hall, from 8 to 11 p.m.; donations of any amount will be welcome.
“Dancing is such a great community event,” said Ceballos, a well-known banjo player and Bristol resident. “And to do contradance you don’t have to have a lot of experience because all the dances are taught and it’s a very welcoming atmosphere. So it’s something that you can entice the whole community to come out to.”
The night of Moth-style storytelling will by hosted by Bristol resident John Elder at the Walkover Gallery, 4-6 p.m. Participants are invited to tell five-minute stories, centered on the theme of “Holiday Tales: Heartwarming, Humorous or Harrowing.”
Both of this weekend’s fundraisers are “pay what you like” at the door. Any amount is welcome, and all donations are tax-deductible.
The group hosted a well-attended benefit at the Bobcat Café in October and has just won a $2,000 grant from the Walter Cerf Community Fund.
A top priority for the campaign is to secure a Cultural Facilities matching grant from the state of Vermont. These grants, funded through the Legislature and administered through the Vermont Arts Council, can provide up to $30,000 in matching funds for Vermont towns or nonprofits looking to upgrade community facilities that bring cultural activities to the public. The deadline for that grant will be spring 2016 and work on the grant is already under way.
The committee is planning more fundraising events for the winter and into the spring.
“Holley Hall is used for so many things,” said Senecal. “We have martial arts classes here. We have town meeting here. We have ballet classes here. Having good acoustics would enhance all of the things that happen here.”
“Let’s Hear It for Holley Hall” welcomes community volunteers and donations. For more information, contact Darla Senecal at the Bristol Recreation Department at 453-5885 or at [email protected].
Reporter Gaen Murphree is at [email protected].

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