A Banner Year for the Arts

Arts7 MIN READ

With a new arts center on campus and new energy in Waterville, Colby put an exclamation point on the arts in 2023

Paul J. Schupf Art Center
The Paul J. Schupf Art Center has drawn attention to the arts in downtown Waterville. (Photo by Maine Drone Imaging)
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By Bob Keyes
December 18, 2023

It was a monumental year for the arts at Colby. In 2023 the College opened a new arts building on campus, helped drive the revitalization of downtown Waterville by emphasizing the role of the arts in community development, and incubated new work by a growing roster of artists.

Here are highlights of the year in arts at Colby.

Since it opened in the fall, the Gordon Center for Creative and Performing Arts, the largest academic project in the College’s history, has become a hub of activity and a magnet for students and the public. The 74,000-square-foot building is among the most advanced performing arts facilities in New England and has begun providing transformational experiences for students and the community with a combination of flexible, multipurpose performance spaces and studios that encourage innovation, experimentation, and new ideas. 

Robert Mirabal and Rare Tribal Mob performed at the Gordon Center for Creative and Performing Arts during the opening celebration for Colby’s new on-campus arts center. (Photo by Ashley L. Conti)

The Boston Globe called Waterville “the artsy hotspot” of northern New England, and the Paul J. Schupf Art Center is a big reason why. With its dynamic neon “ARTS” sign putting a bold exclamation point on the presence and role of the arts in downtown, Schupf Arts is home to the Colby Museum’s Joan Dignam Schmaltz Gallery of Art, Ticonic Gallery and Studios, Maine Film Center, and the historic 800-seat Waterville Opera House. Built in partnership with Colby and Waterville Creates, the art center has attracted more than 100,000 visitors since it opened a year ago and serves as a starting point for First Friday festivities.

The Colby Museum of Art celebrated a banner year with several successful exhibitions, including the landmark Painted: Our Bodies, Hearts, and Village on view through July 2024. The exhibition and Colby have drawn widespread praise and attention for confronting and complementing existing works in the collection that portray Indigenous people of the American Southwest in primitive, uncomfortable ways with artworks by contemporary Pueblo and Diné artists who challenge the clichés and mythmaking. 

With the opening of the Joan Dignam Schmaltz Gallery of Art, the Colby Museum of Art achieved a long-held goal of building stronger connections with the community through a downtown exhibition space. The gallery has hosted several successful exhibitions, including the current show—on view until Dec. 31—Bill Morrison: Cycles & Loops, which includes new work by the experimental filmmaker. Earlier this year, the gallery hosted Ashley Bryan / Paula Wilson: Take the World into Your Arms, featuring artists separated by generations and geography but linked by inspiration, joy, and a desire to create a better world through color, compassion, and community.

The Colby Museum expanded its collection with the acquisition of eight early paintings by revered American artist Roy Lichtenstein, courtesy of the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation. The paintings that came to Colby are early abstract works the artist made before he became famous in the world of Pop art. The overlooked early works inform our understanding of Lichtenstein’s formative years and create context for his move into Pop art.

The Lunder Institute for American Art impacted the world of contemporary art with its programming and is primed to do more of the same in 2024. Housed at the Greene Block + Studios and affiliated with the Colby Museum, the Lunder Institute hosted the Summer Think Tank, which brought together artists, curators, art workers, art lovers, and others for lively discussions about creative practices, as well as American identities and experiences, all with the hope of sparking new ideas and innovations in the field. In 2024 the institute will continue that effort with the new initiative Lunder Institute @ involving six art museums across the country in conversation around the question, “What is the state of American art?”

In addition to looking outward into the world, the Lunder Institute also looks inward toward Mayflower Hill. In a collaborative melting pot, the Lunder Institute worked with the offices of Colby Arts, Dining Services, and Campus Life, the Center for the Arts and Humanities, the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs, the Department of African American Studies, and the Student Government Association to bring to campus the flavors, energy, and wordplay of the globally recognized culinary collective known as Ghetto Gastro. Students sampled recipes from the collective’s Black Power Kitchen cookbook, participated in a battle of the DJs to mark the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, and absorbed the trio’s wisdom and outlook on life.

Pierre Serrao of Ghetto Gastro talks with students at Cotter Union during the Bronx-based culinary collective’s campus takeover. (Photo by Gabe Souza)

Home of the Lunder Institute’s Residential Fellowship program as well as the Colby Arts Office and Center for Book & Print, the Greene Block + Studios buzzed throughout the year, hosting festivals, concerts, First Friday gatherings, and community discussions and serving as anchor and incubator for a range of programming and creative endeavors for the College and the community.

With the opening of the Gordon Center for Creative and Performing Arts, the College launched the Lyons Arts Lab, a new arts incubator that will function as a creative think tank to support new ideas and new work developed by students and faculty across disciplines. Directed by Associate Professor of Performance, Theater, and Dance Annie Kloppenberg, the Lyons Arts Lab provides resources, including funding and mentorship, to enable students to test, refine, and perfect original creative projects with a goal of presenting them as public performances at Colby and beyond.

Colby student artists perform this fall at the Gordon Center for Creative and Performing Arts. (Photo by Ashley L. Conti)

In the spirit of innovation, incubation, and collaboration, Colby artists continued their work on creating bold, new performance pieces. Matthew Cumbie, visiting assistant professor of performance, theater, and dance, spent much of the year working on his community-based dance project Of This Place with residencies, workshops, coursework, and performances. Through movement, music, and multimedia, the piece amplifies the stories that have shaped our communities, and it will have its premiere in February at the Gordon Center. Meanwhile, Associate Professor of English Arisa White continues working with collaborators to develop Post Pardon: The Opera, which explores mental health, post-partum homicide and suicide, and Afro-Indigenous herbalism. She presented her opera as a work-in-progress this past summer at Greene Block + Studios and will present a finished version in 2025 at the Gordon Center.

Greene Block + Studios hosted a variety of events in 2023, including the debut of Associate Professor of English Arisa White’s work-in-progress, Post Pardon: The Opera. (Photo by Gabe Souza)

Described as “the great gathering of the art tribe in Maine,” the Colby Museum’s Summer Luncheon is an annual tradition that brings together an always-interesting mix of artists, educators, curators, collectors, volunteers, and dedicated museum friends. This year, more than 550 people gathered in a large tent on the Colby Green in support and celebration of the Colby Museum of Art. As part of the event, the museum recognized Shannon Haines, president and CEO of Waterville Creates, with the Jetté Award for Leadership in the Arts. Fred Wilson, an interdisciplinary artist known for challenging museums and viewers to address overlooked histories and entrenched racism, received the Cummings Award for Artistic Excellence.

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