Kathy McKean

MIFA Victory Theatre: The preservation, redevelopment, & enhancement of Holyoke

Written by: Julia Accorsini and Devon Farrell

MIFA Kathy McKean“MIFA and Holyoke are like a chicken and an egg, once the theatre is up and running there will be major change in this city” said Kathy McKean when asked about the renovation of the famous Victory Theatre. Holyoke is undergoing a significant transition period, marked by the booming arts and business community and expected rise in tourism to the area. Parallel to the growth and development of a city teeming with a unique history of industrial presence and paper production, the renowned Victory Theatre has been undergoing great change as well. Following a devastating fire in 1942 and closed since 1979, the Massachusetts International Festival of the Arts has purchased the theatre for renovation and plans to restore its history and “attract buzz to the city, so people will see the beauty of Holyoke.”

Being intrigued by the history of the Victory Theatre and its plans for the future, Kathy McKean, the managing director of the Holyoke Creative Arts Center at MIFA, was willing to expand on her experience working for MIFA and the theatre’s current status. Beginning as a volunteer for executive director Don Sanders and progressing to managing director at MIFA, Kathy has spent the past ten years greatly involved in the creative arts community in Holyoke. Her love for the city of Holyoke did not go unnoticed, and she exemplified how welcoming the community was to her after attending Hampshire College. Ten years ago, MIFA undertook a strategic plan to build a community around its flourishing education program, numerous workshops, and exciting goals for the future; they chose to relocate from Northampton to Holyoke’s Victory Theatre.

Currently, MIFA and the Victory Theatre are utilizing their ability to co-sponsor performances at numerous different venues, as the theatre is expected to reopen in about three years. They have collaborated with different performance groups, set up art exhibitions, hosted international production groups, organized workshops for students, and have plans to enhance Holyoke’s drama and stage production programs in schools. MIFA focuses on photography events and workshops as money is being raised for the restoration, but as Kathy explained, the new Victory Theatre will “have everything for the community: a Broadway-sized stage, large enough for everything but Miss Saigon,” plans to host traveling Broadway performances, operas, ballets, and seating for 1600 people.

As Holyoke is redeveloping, the MIFA Victory Theatre is prepared for its progression towards being a city with increased tourism and a booming downtown area. MIFA is diligently working with the community and surrounding areas to build connections and an audience for when the theatre reopens, and will be a catalyst for Holyoke’s progression. As Kathy explained the Theatre’s exciting plan for the future, she alluded to the fact that “the city of Holyoke will change MIFA, and in turn, MIFA will change the city.” The Victory Theatre’s restoration is anticipated and is awaited by the community; its rich history and presence has enhanced the city in the past.  MIFA’s promising strategic plan and current involvement in Holyoke are building up to the grand reopening of what will be one of the major factors in Holyoke’s redevelopment.