Community fundraising effort underway to launch Magic Lantern Innovation Lab and Learning Center in Bridgton

A $4 million fundraising campaign is underway to purchase the Magic Lantern, a theater and pub on Depot Street in Bridgton, and expand the community engagement it offers with the development of an innovation lab and learning center for youth.

To date, the Maine 4-H Foundation has raised half of the $4 million needed to purchase the facility from Snapdragon, LLC to create and open the Magic Lantern Innovation Lab and Learning Center. The center, which will be led by University of Maine Cooperative Extension, will provide a hub of creative activity for rural youth in the Maine Lakes Region.

Under Maine 4-H Foundation ownership, the Magic Lantern will continue to offer a three-auditorium theater, a pub with upgraded movie projection capabilities, and a venue for community engagement. The UMaine Extension 4-H youth development program will increase the educational offerings, and outreach to schools and educational nonprofit organizations.

The goal is to have proceeds from the Magic Lantern theater and pub fund local youth education, making the facility as self-sustaining as possible.

“Our intention has always been to promote entertainment, culture and education through the Magic Lantern. We lit the torch; 4-H and the University of Maine will continue to run with it. We couldn’t be happier,” said Magic Lantern co-owner Frank Howell.

Magic Lantern opened in February 2008 as a community center with state-of-the-art technology, including high-definition projection and sound systems, and full stages. The facility was put up for sale in 2017. The following year, talks began with the co-owners of the Magic Lantern, community members and the Maine 4-H Foundation to explore the possibility of the philanthropic and educational venture.

In addition to Howell and Maine 4-H Foundation executive director Susan Jennings, the planning team behind the project included Dan Cousins and input from school superintendents, headmasters, and nonprofit and foundation leaders and educators.

Among the priorities: educational opportunities for young people focused on the arts, and on mathematics through design and engineering activities. In the Tannery Pub, a dine-in theater, the menu would feature locally sourced whole foods.

Fundraising is now in the community challenge grant phase to raise the remaining $2 million to purchase the facility and launch the Innovation Lab and Learning Center. The project is part of UMaine’s $200 million Vision for Tomorrow comprehensive campaign.

To date, matching challenge grant donors include the Kendal C. and Anna Ham Charitable Foundation, the Maine 4-H Foundation and a major anonymous donor. Last fall, early support came from the Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation.

The new Magic Lantern Innovation Lab and Learning Center will focus on educational programming with an emphasis on cross-discipline learning, creative thinking and problem solving. Visual and performing arts programming will include creative writing, play writing, film production, advertising copywriting, broadcasting and illustration. For programming focused on math, design and engineering, the center will partner with area businesses, such as Down East Innovation, RLC Engineering, UMaine, the Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance, 4-H STEM Hubs and local schools — all of which are current participants in 4-H Youth Development programs statewide.

In addition, the Innovation Lab and Learning Center’s outreach will include hands-on enrichment workshops and experiential education programs in area schools.

“4-H and the University of Maine are poised to bring far more to Bridgton than we were able to with the Magic Lantern by ourselves,” said Howell. ”This is the ultimate realization of our family’s dream for Bridgton.”

The overarching goal is to increase affordable educational opportunities for rural youth in western Maine, said Jennings.

“Young people growing up in rural Maine do not have the same opportunities and resources that other youth have in the urban areas of Maine,” Jennings said. “4-H has been engaged in experiential education pilot school programs for over 10 years and have successfully increased test scores, raised aspirations, increased attendance and engaged students in career-based learning. We look forward to partnering with this community and the region to offer UMaine programming that can make a difference in the lives of children, youth and their families.”

4-H is an important part of the continued education of young people in vital yet overlooked areas of the country, said Ali Kiger, a member of Snapdragon. “4-H and the University of Maine coming to Bridgton will give an opportunity to so many individuals that might not otherwise get the benefit of such education.”

For more information or to contribute to the project, contact the Maine 4-H Foundation, 207.615.7300; A video about the initiative is online.

Contact: Susan Jennings, 207.615.7300