Thursday, December 5, 2013
SIDNEY — During the past 77 years, four generations of the Wiggin family have been running the New England Music Camp to help people — mainly the well-to-do — explore their love of fine music.
Jeanette Wiggin, director emeritus, second from right, with her grandson, Matthew, right; son, John, left center; and daughter-in-law, Kim, far left, at the entrance to the family's New England Music Camp in Sidney. The music camp has lasted over four generations in the Wiggin family and is wrapping up its 77th summer.
Staff photo / Michael G. Seamans
An artist's sketch of the New England Music Camp's planned education center and Recital Hall on the shore of Messalonskee Lake in Sidney.
Now co-director John Wiggin wants to expand the traditional summer camp's role, bringing performing arts education to more central Maine children, but the wealthy people he has gone to for help have been slow to commit to the camp's $12 million fundraising campaign.
Wiggin, speaking recently from the screened-in porch of an administrative building on the sprawling, sunny lakeside camp, explained his vision for the Snow Pond Center of the Arts, which he already has begun to build, and other facets of the expansion.
When it comes to access to the fine arts, he said, there is a void in central Maine.
"If you look at the kids in the Boston area, the New York area, the Connecticut area, those kids get a very, very high-end arts education," Wiggin said. "If the kids want them, those opportunities are there. They're not in this area."
In five years, he said, the camp will be open year-round, offering classes to college students, adults and local high school students, who might finish their school day at the Snow Pond Center. Snow Pond also is known as Messalonskee Lake.
Bette Bussel, executive director of the American Camp Association, New England, said that during the past five years, she has seen more and more camps diversify their offerings, many of them by offering off-season educational opportunities to children in their area. It works because it offers a valuable educational experience to schools and a new source of revenue to the camps, many of which are seeing their traditional summer schedules being squeezed by shifting school schedules.
Wiggin said many people don't appreciate the role a quality arts education plays in Maine's economy.
"Our biggest export is our kids," he said.
In order to keep people in Maine, he said, the state needs to be an attractive place to live, not just for retirees but for "the artists, the entrepreneurs, the businesses, the business professionals, the doctors, the lawyers."
Those professionals, he said, are the very people who place a high value on the arts and cultural opportunities.
"To get them to live here, they need to perceive that there is really high-end education," he said.
He pointed to expansions at MaineGeneral Health in Augusta and Waterville's Hathaway Center and Robert LaFleur Airport as signs of economic progress, but he said arts education is a missing piece of the puzzle.
"A number of folks in the area have said, 'You guys could be the tipping point that gets people, finally, to live here, if you are successful,'" he said.
In order to bring that vision to life, the New England Music Camp needs $12 million.
Millions of dollars short
From the very beginning, when the camp was a single lodge built in 1898, it existed to promote fine music, a special interest of the well-to-do.
In the early years, said Kimberly Wiggin, John Wiggin's wife and co-director, the camp catered primarily to affluent Jewish families from the Boston area who traveled to the camp by train.
Over the decades, it has hosted world-class instrumentalists and benefited from associations with movers and shakers, including former Maine Gov. and U.S. Sen. Frederick Payne.
Now, four years after taking the reins in 2009, the Wiggins said the time has come for patrons of the arts to fund a major expansion that would bolster access for local Maine children.
The best chance a student from a less affluent background now has to get into the camp, which comes with a price tag of about $1,300 per week, is through a scholarship.
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