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VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

Marlboro College Closure Will Not Affect Marlboro Music Festival

A stage with musicians on it.
Pete Checchia/Allen Cohen
Courtesy of Marlboro Music Festival
About 7,000 people attended the Marlboro Music Festival in 2019. The festival's board chairman says a recently signed lease ensures the festival can remain on the campus even after the school closes.

Organizers of the Marlboro Music Festival say the festival will remain on the Marlboro College campus even if the school closes at the end of this academic year.
Marlboro Collegeannounced in November that it had a deal in place to merge with Emerson College, in Boston. Under the proposal, tenured faculty and students from Marlboro would start the next year at Emerson, while academic programs would shut down in Vermont.

But Christopher Serkin, chairman of the Marlboro Music Festival board of trustees, said the festival has a lease in place that has to be honored by whoever owns the property.

"The Marlboro campus is our home," Serkin said. "And this summer it will continue as usual."

The festival started in 1951 on the Marlboro College campus, and in 2019 about 7,000 people traveled to the tiny town of Marlboro to listen to world-class chamber music. Earlier this yearthe music festival announced that it would start a $13 million project on the campus to build a new residence hall and rehearsal studio.

A black and white photograph of musicians playing instruments
Credit Clemens Kalischer / Courtesy of Marlboro Music Festival
Courtesy of Marlboro Music Festival
A photograph from Marlboro Music Festival, circa 1960. From left: Blanche Moyse, Lori Berkowitz, Rudolf Serkin and Hermann Busch. Moyse, Serkin and Busch were all co-founders of the festival that dates back to 1951.

Under the original plan, the festival was going to donate the two new buildings to the college and have students use the facilities during the school year — and the festival signed a 99-year lease with the college to protect that investment.

Serkin said while it's not clear what will happen to the campus after the school closes, whoever ends up owning the property will have to honor the lease.

"As longstanding stakeholders in the community we're also acutely aware of the impacts on the town of Marlboro and on the region," said Serkin. "Right now there's just a lot that's up in the air though, and we're seeing how everything evolves."

More from VPR — 'A Really Beautiful Community': Marlboro College Prepares To Close Its Doors [Nov. 12]

Under the current plan with Emerson, Marlboro College will turn over its $30 million endowment and the 500-acre property to Emerson College.

But Emerson College President Lee Pelton said his school has no desire to own the Marlboro campus. He said a sale to a third party could likely happen before July 1, when the deal between the two colleges is supposed to be finalized.

"Both Emerson and Marlboro understand and appreciate the importance of the Marlboro Music Festival," Pelton said. "It is our hope and intention that the Marlboro Music Festival will continue to thrive and grow in its current location."

"I do think that there's a solution out there that could be a win for the music festival, a win that supports this alliance between Marlboro and Emerson, and also something good for the town and our county and state to keep a vibrant campus here year-round." — Kevin Quigley, Marlboro College president

Marlboro College President Kevin Quigley said that while the campus isn't formally on the market right now, he thinks a sale could be completed before July — and he thinks the music festival has the deep pockets to purchase the property and help to revive the campus after the college is gone.

"I hope very much that the music festival will decide it's in their best interest to purchase the campus," Quigley said. "Now we haven't had those conversations, but I do think that there's a solution out there that could be a win for the music festival, a win that supports this alliance between Marlboro and Emerson, and also something good for the town and our county and state to keep a vibrant campus here year-round."

The college recently formed an exploratory group made up of students, faculty and community members to put together a proposal for the future of the campus, and the group is expected to present its ideas to the Marlboro College board of trustees in February. Separately, there's also an effort being led by two former faculty members to propose an alternate plan for the campus' future.

As part of its lease agreement the Marlboro Music Festival has a right to first refusal, which means it can match any offer made on the property. Serkin, the festival board chairman, declined to comment directly on the organization's interest in purchasing the property.

Auditions for this summer's Marlboro Music Festival were held recently in New York City, and tickets will go on sale March 2 for the 2020 season.

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Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state.
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