Who Are They? Waterfall Arts – Part 2April 21, 2017
Curating for Community
This is the second of five blog posts in a series about Waterfall Arts, located in Belfast, and are posted April 20-24. This is part of a series called Who Are They? Information is provided for the Maine Arts Ed blog readers to learn about community organizations and institutions that provide educational opportunities in the arts. You will learn that they are partnering with other organizations and schools to extend learning opportunities, not supplant.
Waterfall Arts (WA) was founded in 2000 on a rustic site in Montville by a group of local artists. Seventeen years later now located in a repurposed old schoolhouse in Belfast, WA is a vibrant midcoast arts hub with over 6000 visitors per year, still committed to its mission “to create community in harmony with nature through the transformative power of the arts.” WA offers resources to artists and arts enthusiasts of all ages, including classes, exhibitions, events, open media-specific studios (clay, print, and photography), free/sliding scale arts after-school programs for 4th-12th graders, public art projects, long-term studio space, and short-term rental facilities. As the co-founders and those involved are dedicated to an accessible, environmentally-sustainable center, they have embarked on a campaign to transform their old building into a model of creative energy efficiency and ADA-compliance. Waterfall Arts is located at 265 High Street in Belfast. Website: http://waterfallarts.org, contact: email@example.com or call 207.338.2222. This is the second of five on Waterfall Arts.
In the early days of Waterfall Arts, we were all volunteers running summer classes in a collection of rustic buildings and tents in rural Montville, Waldo County. All exhibits were pop-up, day-of, showing teachers’ and students’ work, often together. We were all about just getting the work out there. Prints, glass beads, earthmounds, dances performed under waterfalls, drawings and paintings, clay pots, floating burning boats.
Today, we annually exhibit about 200 artists of the highest caliber, and the variety is as eclectic and interesting as ever. Now in Belfast year-round, we plan two years out for our two exhibition spaces. We show work of artists near (in the building) and far (Japanese photographer Koichiro Kurita) and of all ages, from life-long painter Harold Garde at age 90 to 4-year-old Eliot Bee Andrews and her fairy sculptures.
Our curating process is by committee, with different staff or volunteers taking the lead.
Every spring two open (non-curated) community shows bring in work from all over: in March, the Young Artists’ Gallery Takeover exhibit features hundreds of works by Waldo County artists under age 18. In April, the Open Call show has attracted as many as 200 artists from all over the US. Themes have included the all-cardboard creations, works of exactly one square foot, Earth, and printmaking (celebrating our new print studio). These shows fill both the three-floor Corridor Gallery and the 725 sq ft Clifford Gallery.
True to our roots, we still like to show work outside — on the lawn, on the building, in the town. We’ve made murals and chalk drawings, projected video onto the building from an old car parked on the lawn, and installed stone and metal sculpture. Grants help drive some projects, such as our permanent Willow Dome on the front lawn and the seasonal Living Wall, a vertical garden on the south wall designed, cared for, and installed by students from partnering schools.
Some exhibitions are developed from scratch, in-house — usually long-term projects that require external funding and sometimes a large crew. The show “David McLaughlin: The Art of Salvage” was two years in the making. David, who had recently passed away, owned an entire cannery as his live/work environment, filling every nook and cranny with metal and salvaged objects. With his heirs, we reached out to find and catalogue the assemblaged and metal sculpture of this talented and beloved local metalworker. We also received permission to disassemble a small entryway, and then precisely reassembled it in the Clifford Gallery with all its contents, including several tons of metal tools. Large photographs of the cannery, as well as another built environment, graced the gallery to augment and highlight the sculpture. One visitor commented that it was “as good as a Smithsonian exhibit.”
Artists, teachers or friends sometimes propose a show; if the committee gives a green light, we’ll collaborate and curate together. In 2015, we worked with Waging Peace/Maine to bring together two well-known painters — Rob Shetterly (“Americans Who Tell the Truth” series) and Alan Magee (allegorical war-torn figures) — for a powerful exhibition, an artist talk broadcast on community radio, and well-attended workshops with national peace activist Paul Chappell.
And then there’s luck. Sometimes when you pick up the phone and call a famous artist, like Arthur Ganson, they say yes. The exhibition of his kinetic sculpture was one of the most visited and interactive we’ve ever had.
Waterfall Arts seeks to present work that is topical and community-minded, that emphasizes the rich artistic talent here in Maine while also introducing new or national voices, that provokes discussion, raises awareness of the creative process and provides a glimpse into the mind of today’s artist in a challenging world. While art sales matter, they are not a major curatorial factor — inquiry and freshness are.
We’ve learned on the fly, had help from amazing artists both in shows and on our committee, and, without fail, are inspired with every new show.
This post was written by Martha Piscuskas, Waterfall Arts Director of Programming. Martha is one of the founders and longtime volunteers of the organization. She has 25 years of non-profit management experience, having worked for or directed numerous progressive organizations in Maine. Along with her four siblings, Martha is also an artist, making interactive installations and community performances. She holds a BA in Cultural Anthropology from Wesleyan University, and a BFA from the Maine College of Art. Martha can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.