Gordon Center for Creative and Performing Arts Opens to Accolades


Large and enthusiastic audiences have attended a variety of initial performances and events

The Gordon Center for Creative and Performing Arts has hosted several events in the two months since its opening, drawing campus and community members to experience the arts in this dynamic, flexible space. (Photo by Maine Drone Imaging)
By Bob Keyes
November 1, 2023

Alison Beyea, executive director of the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs, has spent a lot of time inside the Gordon Center for Creative and Performing Arts since the building opened in September.

During the recent grand-opening celebration, she was struck by how well the 300-seat performance hall—one of several multi-use performance spaces within the 74,000-square-foot Gordon Center—handled a range of events. The mood was festive and boisterous one afternoon, as friends and Colby community members, including Maine Gov. Janet Mills, gathered to commemorate the opening of one of the most advanced and innovative performing arts facilities in New England and thank Life Trustee Michael Gordon ’66 for his gift that led to the building’s creation.

Twenty-four hours later, Beyea sat rapt among an overflow crowd listening intently to a discussion about Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich as part of the 71st Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award for Courage in Journalism event. Gershkovich is an American journalist imprisoned in Russia on charges of espionage, which he and his editors deny. Gershkovich’s parents and sister came to campus to accept the Lovejoy Award on his behalf.

“I was fascinated and amazed at how well the performance hall held those different emotions,” Beyea said. “I was really moved by it. Usually, a space moves in one direction or another. But this space holds whatever our community is bringing to it.”

And we’re just getting started.

student performer
A student performs in the Gordon Center during the grand-opening celebration. (Photo by Gabe Souza)

It’s been a whirlwind since September, as faculty, students, and staff settle into the largest academic building in College history. The new home for the departments of Music, Cinema Studies, and Performance, Theater, and Dance, the Gordon Center anchors the south end of campus and stands out with its exterior of glass, limestone, and brick. On the interior, highly flexible performance and rehearsal spaces and private studios provide a platform for teaching, performing, and creating.

With its glass walls and open spaces, the Gordon Center is designed to entice students, to pique their curiosities about the process of creativity happening on the other side of the glass, and to engage their imaginations.

“It’s about inviting you into the arts, it’s about making sure that this is a place where everybody feels welcome and the people who never thought about themselves as theater kids or dance kids or art kids might actually find that creative spark that changes their lives when they come through this building,” President David A. Greene said during the grand-opening celebration.

“It’s about building a culture of creativity at Colby.”

More than ever, Greene continued, he’s convinced that “with the changes we are seeing in our economy, the people who are going to win in the end are going to be those people with an undeniable creative spirit, who bring something new and different to every problem.”

With its flexible, adaptable spaces, the Gordon Center is designed to accommodate creative problem solvers now and in the future, he said. “Twenty-five years from now and 50 years from now, when the arts are changing, these spaces will still be fantastic,” Greene said, describing the building as an incubator for new ideas.

Gordon Center interior
The Olentine Forum runs along the front of the Gordon Center and offers an ideal space for receptions. In the foreground, computers are illuminated inside a classroom that abuts the forum. (Photo by Ashley L. Conti)

In addition to serving as an academic hub, the Gordon Center has hosted many public events, including the launch of the Lyons Arts Lab, a concert by Pueblo flute player and singer Robert Mirabal, a standing-room only performance by the Colby Symphony Orchestra, and the annual Break, Burn, Build mixed-repertory presentation by the Colby Dance Company.

Teresa McKinney, the Diamond Family Director of the Arts, said the Gordon Center has passed the early tests. “We have had a variety of events to see how different setups might work, how they look, and how the building responds to lectures and panel discussions, to amplified or acoustic music,” she said. “We are learning the full range of dynamics and how we can elevate the experience of those practicing the creative and performing arts and for the guests who visit the Gordon Center.”

Robert Mirabal and Rare Tribal Mob performing
Robert Mirabal and Rare Tribal Mob perform at Gordon Center for Creative and Performing Arts. (Photo by Ashley L. Conti)

Engaging the creative process

People who attend events at the Gordon Center can expect further adaptations throughout the building as the artists and staff become more familiar and comfortable with their surroundings, McKinney said. That includes front-of-house operations, as well as technical aspects directly related to onstage performance.

Annie Kloppenberg, inaugural director of the Lyons Arts Lab and associate professor and chair of the Department of Performance, Theater, and Dance, said the professors, students, performers, and technicians who are using the building are exploring and learning its nuances, characteristics, and possibilities. Together, with grace and patience and with an eye toward adaptability, they are discovering new systems of collaboration across the College and with the Arts Office, which coordinates Colby arts events at the Gordon Center and elsewhere.

“It has been a little hectic because of all the moving pieces and the new systems that we are all getting acquainted with. But that’s an apt metaphor for the kind of work this building is meant to support, which is the construction of new ideas through sometimes messy and unpredictable creative processes,” she said. 

During a rehearsal for Break, Burn, Build, she extolled the adaptability of the center, including Studio 3 with its wooden-sprung floor designed for dance. As she spoke, sound and light technicians played with the newly installed systems, filling the studio with a cascade of sounds and rainbow of swirling, changing light. When it was go-time two days later, audience members filled the seats, which were arranged on risers like an L on two sides of the room, technicians dialed in the sound and lights to match the performances, and dancers hit their marks.

Annie Kloppenberg
Annie Kloppenberg, inaugural director of the Lyons Arts Lab and associate professor and chair of the Department of Performance, Theater, and Dance, welcomes attendees at the launch of the lab. (Photo by Ashley L. Conti)

“As more students take up residence in this building, we cannot underestimate the kind of work that will be dreamed up in the casual exchanges that students have in the social spaces they will share,” Kloppenberg said, adding that she believes the Gordon Center will draw more artistic and creative students to Colby in much the same way the Harold Alfond Athletics and Recreation Center has attracted student athletes.

“The building will attract more students who are explicitly interested in the arts to Colby when they visit campus and see that arts happen here,” Kloppenberg said. “And at the same time, I think it gives more visibility to the work we have been doing. In the Department of Performance Theater and Dance, we have focused on original, hybrid, and collaborative work for quite some time. Sharing spaces with music and cinema studies allows us to build on our history of collaboration and bring to life more cross-disciplinary projects in spaces that are adaptable and equipped with more sophisticated technology.  We hope it will expand both participation and audience support for performance and film.”

Yiyun “Amanda” Mao ’26 is among the current students who have discovered the center. She is a philosophy and economics major who is minoring in cinema studies and active in dance. “Most of my interests are in this building,” she said.

Her favorite place is a quiet, isolated film editing studio, where she can do film-editing work and homework. But when she is out and about in the building, she is meeting new people and thinking about new ways to make movies and create art.

“I am getting to know more artists and creative people. I just run into them,” she said. “There are glass walls everywhere, which increases the chance of running into people.”