The Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival is entering into a long-term lease with the Vineyard Preservation Trust for the second floor of Grange Hall in West Tisbury, both organizations announced Wednesday.

“We’re going into a partnership and a collaboration,” trust executive director Nevette Previd told the West Tisbury select board during their online meeting Wednesday night.

As part of the agreement, the trust will winterize the upstairs and replace the elevator, said Ms. Previd, noting that the film festival’s tenancy will continue a long tradition for the Grange Hall.

“It’s always been the Island’s oldest performing arts building,” she said.

The hall, which the trust purchased from the town in 1997, provided the location for the first Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival in 2001. The festival went on to make its home in Chilmark after that, and has since grown to encompass a wide range of educational cinema programming and activities, including its most recent pandemic-inspired drive-in movies at the YMCA.

Second floor of Grange Hall will house the MV Film Festival, in a partnership with the Preservation Trust. — Tim Johnson

The film festival also announced the news in a press release Wednesday afternoon from executive and artistic director Brian Ditchfield.

In an email to the Gazette, Mr. Ditchfield further outlined the plans. “We will activate the historic theatre as a year-round venue for film, education, theatre, music and storytelling,” he wrote.

Mr. Ditchfield also joined Ms. Previd at Wednesday’s select board meeting.

“It’s in many ways a childhood dream come true,” he told board members Cynthia Mitchell and Skipper Manter, recalling that he attended movies in the Grange’s second-floor theatre during his childhood and performed there as a young actor.

“Our goal is to revitalize it for cultural and community use without taking away from West Tisbury’s quiet rural character,” Mr. Ditchfield said, adding that he has been speaking with nearby property owners about the festival’s plans.

“The neighbors’ response has been so nice,” he said. “I really appreciate that.”

Mr. Manter, who chairs the select board, voiced concern about intensified activity at the Grange.

“To me, it’s an expanding of a nonconforming use in a residential neighborhood,” he said. “You’re talking music and films, you’re talking amplified noise, you’re talking cars coming and going — I’m not sure it’s the right place for it.”

But Mr. Ditchfield told the board he does not foresee high-impact uses of the property. The theatre has an occupancy limit of 125, but actual audiences would be much smaller to allow for social distancing, he said.

“It’s a small theatre, and so given Covid . . . we want to keep it intimate,” he said.

In the press release Mr. Dithcfield said the festival will continue all its regular programming in other venues.

“We will continue all of our existing programs, including the annual Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival this March, the pay-what-you-can Drive-In at the YMCA, education programs in every Island school, film production, and screenings at other Island venues like the Union Chapel, the Beach Plum Inn, the Chilmark Community Center, and the Aquinnah Circle,” he wrote.

Ms. Mitchell said she was pleased that Mr. Ditchfield has been talking with Grange neighbors, and expressed support for the plan.

“I think it’s a great partnership,” she said. “I would like to see it go forward. I’m all for it.”

The trust will continue its ongoing relationships with seasonal tenants on the first floor of Grange Hall, such as the Vineyard Artisans Festivals, Ms. Previd said.

In addition to leasing the upstairs theatre, Mr. Ditchfield told the Gazette the film festival will rent the former town library on Music street for its offices. Also owned by the Preservation Trust, the old library building was used for children’s theatre in recent years.

In the press release Mr. Ditchfield wrote:

“I look forward to working with local artists, amplifying diverse voices, and celebrating our unique community through film and the arts.

“Stay tuned for more updates in the coming weeks. We will be co-fundraising with the VPT for maintenance and upgrades, to ensure the Grange is preserved and accessible for generations to come.”