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A 70-year-old gift helped transform a gritty Maine city into an arts destination — Midcoast — Bangor Daily News — BDN Maine

A 70-year-old gift helped transform a gritty Maine city into an arts destination — Midcoast — Bangor Daily News — BDN Maine

Lauren Abbate | BDN

Lauren Abbate | BDN

The Middle for Maine Modern Artwork relocated to Rockland in 2016 to be a a part of the city’s rising arts group.

By Lauren Abbate, BDN Employees •
July 23, 2018 5:00 am

Up to date: July 23, 2018 5:40 am

ROCKLAND, Maine — Even should you take solely a passing take a look at the crowds of folks that filter by means of downtown Rockland, it’s exhausting to overlook a theme.

The little identifiers are often situated on somebody’s lapel or perhaps on the underside nook of their shirt, in the event that they’re being discreet: admission stickers, of various colours, to both the Farnsworth Artwork Museum or the Middle for Maine Modern Artwork.

When you discover, you’ll start see them in all places — on patrons in espresso outlets and retail companies, artfully discarded over trash cans.

They function a reminder of your home in small city of seven,00zero individuals that’s striving for a popularity because the arts capital of Maine.

“If you look at the number of galleries, including the Farnsworth and the CMCA, there is a very high density [of art in Rockland]. You don’t have to go very far from where you parked your car to get ahold of these things. The amount of work and the quality of work within such an easy reach is very unusual,” Orlando Johnson, proprietor of the Blackhole gallery and present organizer of the group, Arts in Rockland, stated.

The standing of Rockland as an arts destination, not simply within the midcoast area however for Maine as a entire, has been creating through the previous 20 years.

Within the early 1990s, the Farnsworth, Caldbeck Gallery and Strand Theater have been the one art-centered institutions calling Rockland residence. Now, greater than 20 galleries — together with two that opened this yr — and the lately relocated Middle for Maine Modern Arts are serving to to make up the essential mass drawing hundreds of artwork fanatics to the city annually.

“It’s elevated to a point now where it merits the title, ‘The arts capital of Maine.’ Walk down the street and every other building is art-related, whether it be on Main Street or off Main Street,” Chris Brownawell, government director of the Farnsworth, stated.

Individuals concerned with Rockland’s downtown and arts group say the expansion of the city as an arts destination is the newest method Rockland is reinventing itself and are hopeful that the arts will profit the city culturally and economically into the longer term.

Maine’s position in American artwork

Lengthy earlier than Rockland was recognized for its arts scene, there was the Farnsworth.

This yr, the Farnsworth is celebrating its 70th anniversary, having opened underneath comparatively random circumstances in 1948.

The museum was born out of the final will and testomony of Lucy Farnsworth, the daughter of William Farnsworth, a Rockland businessman who labored within the granite business and raised his household within the city. When Lucy died in 1935, her will instructed that each one of her belongings be used to construct a library and artwork museum on Essential Road to honor of her father.

The Farnsworth household collected artwork, however they weren’t “serious collectors,” Brownawell stated, so it was “to the surprise of everyone” that Lucy included establishing an artwork museum in her will.

Each the museum and a assortment needed to be constructed. The unique assortment of 500 items was purchased for $50,00zero, Brownawell stated, together with items from a then up-and-coming Andrew Wyeth. From the outset, these constructing the gathering targeted on highlighting Maine’s position in American artwork, Brownawell stated.

“The Farnsworth, at this point, was a standalone,” Brownawell stated. “Artists were attracted to the region but there weren’t any commercial galleries.”

At present, the Farnsworth’s assortment consists of 15,00zero items, and the museum attracts 100,00zero guests yearly. Brownawell stated the establishment has grown into a “$57 million economic driver for the region.”

Whereas the main target continues to be on showcasing how Maine intersects with American artwork, the museum has expanded to incorporate 14 galleries and has about eight exhibitions on show, together with one by internationally famend Chinese language artist Ai Weiwei.

4 years after the Farnsworth opened, Maine Coast Artists — which is now the CMCA — opened in Rockport, the subsequent city north of Rockland on Route 1. The museum targeted on showcasing the work of up to date artists with robust ties to Maine.

Concurrently, artists have been being drawn to Maine to attend the Skowhegan Faculty of Portray and Sculpture. Many of those artists — together with a younger Robert Indiana — migrated east to the midcoast.

By the late 1950s and early 1960s, a “significant number of leading American artists” spent summers within the midcoast, in response to CMCA Government Director Suzette McAvoy.

There are three legs that make up the artwork world, McAvoy stated: there are the artists; the establishments, just like the Farnsworth and the CMCA; and the galleries.

It takes all three for an arts group to thrive. Going into the second half of the 20th century, Rockland and the midcoast basically had the primary two items of the equation.

However it will take many years for the galleries to comply with.

Open area and a altering Rockland

Tom O’Donovan had been working Harbor Sq. Gallery for 15 years in Camden when he determined to maneuver to Rockland in 1995.

On the time Rockland’s Important Road was about a third vacant and the city had a popularity as a gritty, working waterfront group bathed within the odor of fish processing.

With Camden rents rising, O’Donovan might personal a constructing in Rockland for lower than he was paying up the coast. The Farnsworth was immediately adjoining to the property he was concerned about, so he took a shot.

“In retrospect, it was kind of an insane thing to do,” O’Donovan stated. “It seems like ever since that day [I bought the property], everything that has happened has supported that decision.”

In the course of the subsequent decade, the Farnsworth would bear a collection of expansions and extra galleries — such because the Dowling Walsh Gallery — moved onto Principal Road, to hitch Harbor Sq. Gallery and the Caldbeck Gallery.

Reasonably priced open area inside a stone’s throw of an artwork establishment just like the Farnsworth was an engaging state of affairs for galleries or simply artists who needed studio area.

Lauren Abbate | BDN

Lauren Abbate | BDN

A household walks down Foremost Road in Rockland, previous the Farnsworth Artwork Museum and Strand Theater, two of the arts-related establishments serving to to cement Rockland’s status as an artwork destination.

“The arts found a welcoming situation in Rockland because there was space available. People could try out their dreams,” O’Donovan stated.

With arts companies shifting into empty storefronts, the shift to an arts-centric downtown wasn’t a case of 1 business pushing out one other, stated Gordon web page, director of Rockland Primary Road Inc.

With the city’s historical past of adjusting industries — together with shipbuilding, quarrying and fish processing — Web page argues that the arts group is the newest iteration of Rockland’s altering id.

“There’s been this concern of, ‘Oh, it’s all galleries, what happened to the retail stores?’ Well, the retails store left and created a vacancy,” Web page stated. “Rockland has a great history of being able to evolve over time. When one sector started to diminish, another started to come in.”

When art-centered companies transfer in, cafes and eating places typically comply with, O’Donovan stated.

With Rockland now boasting greater than 20 galleries and a barely larger variety of eateries, Web page would argue that Rockland isn’t simply an artwork destination however a eating destination as nicely.

“I just think it’s really interesting that all this has happened in a place that was more famous for being unsightly and smelly than anything else. And now look at it,” O’Donovan stated.

Constructing on momentum

When CMCA leaders determined the museum had outgrown area in Rockport, they didn’t need to look far to seek out a place to relocate.

“We thought if we really wanted to maintain our role as a leader of contemporary art in the state, we need to relocate [to Rockland] to be a part of that,” McAvoy stated.

CMCA has seen annual customer numbers develop from about eight,00zero in Rockport to 40,00zero since opening in Rockland in June 2016, McAvoy stated.

This yr, the CMCA gained the Governor’s Award for Tourism Excellence. The popularity by the Maine Workplace of Tourism mirrored the museum’s transformation from small native facility to a draw for cultural tourism inside the Maine arts group.

For July’s First Friday Artwork Stroll, the CMCA noticed 1,500 individuals stroll by means of its doorways in three hours, which McAvoy stated speaks not simply to the curiosity within the museum however the variety of individuals drawn to Rockland for its artwork choices.

“The awareness of Rockland as a significant art destination is only going to increase,” McAvoy stated.

In the course of the previous 5 years, the variety of galleries in Rockland has stayed about the identical, with some closing and new ones opening of their place. This summer time noticed two new gallery additions to Major Road, the Clarke Gallery and the Stanhope and Spencer Gallery.

However does the city danger over-reliance on arts-related companies?

Lauren Abbate | BDN

Lauren Abbate | BDN

With greater than 20 artwork galleries and two museums, Rockland is now a destination for artwork in Maine.

“Trees have a way of pruning their own growth,” O’Donovan stated. “Is there a point where it becomes too much? I don’t know. I don’t know how you determine that. I guess the marketplace determines that.”

To make sure future survival, many in Rockland’s artwork group are specializing in tips on how to develop their base in the course of the low season.

Orlando Johnson stated the choice to maintain his gallery open year-round was a not solely a dedication to his gallery however a dedication to the group.

“It’s not a part-time thing for me,” Johnson stated. “It’s a point of view, a longer term view, of making it so Rockland isn’t just dependent on July and August. […] The way to grow it is to offer it.”

McAvoy of CMCA stated the main target is on bolstering a “vibrant and lively community.”

“We don’t want people to feel like by living in Maine they’re missing out,” McAvoy stated. “You can feel like you’re part of the contemporary conversation in the midcoast.”

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