FARMINGTON — Lorene Benson’s glowing, spontaneous smile is accompanied these days by a long, slow exhale.
A dream birthed 30 years ago finally came to fruition on Saturday at 1622 Route 332. The Cobblestone Performing Arts Center, a new 5,000-square-foot, 130-seat theater and art gallery that broke ground in fall 2015 officially opened its doors — and it’s now alive with the sound of music, dancing, drama, comedy and creativity.
“I’m still pinching myself that it’s here,” said Benson, Cobblestone’s executive director. “Every time I walk on that stage I just beam. This is a sacred space to me where people can share all those gifts — those joyful things, those beautiful things that help people grow and intellectualize and become emotional about things.”
The finish line is also a starting line, Benson said, as Cobblestone Arts Center and its Arts Dayhab Program for persons with disabilities, community classes and the newly constructed Performing Arts Center rev up for multi-age programming. On the calendar are a wellness lecture series, Cobblestone Players series, children’s series, professional theater series, afterschool programming for kids and an At-Risk Teen Work Program.
“It’s the beginning, and now I need to know how to manage all that with the things we do here for our students,” said Benson.
A program Saturday featured cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, with performances by Chanson Strings, Wheels in Motion dance and the Cobblestone Dance Company.
“My parents taught me to share, to open the house and the refrigerator to everyone, and that’s how I think the world’s supposed to work,” said Benson. “I”m so happy to be sharing this with the community.”
There were times Benson said she was frustrated with people not foreseeing what could be possible.
“Artists are always 10 years ahead of everyone else,” she said. “It’s really hard when you become a pioneer and people don’t catch up.”
But it turned out Benson’s mom was right when she advised her daughter to “be persistent and never give up.”
Saturday’s program included a vocal performance of “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” from the musical “Funny Girl.” Cobblestone Director of Program Helana Brasley introduced the solo, dedicating it to “all the naysayers on Lorene’s behalf.”
“I like to be the voice for people with no voices,” said Benson. “I need to make sure these people with disabilities can be valued. I need to help kids at risk. So please don’t just talk about it, do something about it.”
The Golisano Foundation did something about it recently by funding the new At-Risk Teen Work Program to the tune of $10,000. It will launch this summer when students go out and work with teens at risk, Benson said.
“Thank you to the community and staff that have helped create an environment of inclusion and creativity,” said Benson. “My heart feels great, it feels full.”