On a crystal-clear November day, the final steel beam for the Paul J. Schupf Art Center was hoisted into place, marking another significant moment in the revitalization of downtown Waterville. The rapid progress on the center, a partnership between Colby and Waterville Creates, epitomizes the tremendous momentum underway in furthering Waterville’s identity as a cultural destination.
A large crowd of community members gathered in Castonguay Square for the topping-out ceremony, many having just signed the nearly 11-foot, 283-pound beam. The spectrum of people and organizations present is emblematic of the Schupf Art Center’s promise to bring together the community through the arts in a dynamic and visually stunning center.
“This is an extraordinary moment for this city,” said President David A. Greene, highlighting the importance of collaboration in the city’s renaissance. “Partnerships really matter in all of this. And one of the reasons this project is going to be such a success is because the partnerships here have been second to none.”
The $18-million Paul J. Schupf Art Center, in the heart of downtown Waterville on Main Street, will be a lively, distinctive hub for visual and performing arts, film, and arts education. Part of a rich and integrated group of art and cultural institutions throughout Waterville, including the Colby College Museum of Art, the newly named Greene Block + Studios, and the Gordon Center for Creative and Performing Arts under construction on Colby’s campus, the new center adds to the increasingly diverse venues and programming that will enrich life in the city and help drive economic activity throughout the region.
The center, which will be completed in late 2022, is named in honor of the late Trustee Emeritus Paul J. Schupf, LL.D. ’06, a major art collector and longtime benefactor who altered the landscape at Colby with gifts that support the arts, sciences, and residential life. One of Colby’s largest donors, Schupf’s contributions to Colby include the Paul J. Schupf Wing for the Works of Alex Katz at the Colby Museum, the Paul J. Schupf Scientific Computing Center, and the Paul J. Schupf Colby/Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) Internship.
“This project wouldn’t have happened without him,” President Greene said of Schupf. “This is the day that he would be filled with enormous pride. It’s the kind of thing that he cared about. He loved to see progress. He loved to think about the integration of arts in the community. And so today, my heart is with Paul and everything that he’s done for Colby. His last gesture in life was to make sure that something really special would happen in Waterville. And for that, I’m enormously grateful.”
The 32,000-square-foot building will house Waterville Creates, the Ticonic Gallery + Studios, and the Maine Film Center, operating three cinemas and hosting the annual Maine International Film Festival. The center, designed to emphasize the importance of community with its flexible, collaborative, and open spaces, will include a classroom, pottery studio, rehearsal room, and communal gathering areas, allowing the public to further engage with the arts. The innovative design also includes an enclosed glass skywalk that will connect the center with the historic 800-seat Waterville Opera House.
“The construction of the Paul J. Schupf Art Center represents the culmination of years of creative, collaborative planning to ensure that all members of our community will have access to outstanding arts programming for generations to come,” said Shannon Haines, president and CEO of Waterville Creates. “This project is the kind of project that comes along once in a lifetime. Every community dreams of this project. It’s a shining example of collaboration that builds on our community’s unique assets.”
Significantly, the center allows for the Colby Museum to expand into downtown Waterville. The Joan Dignam Schmaltz Gallery of Art will feature exhibitions from the museum’s permanent collection as well as specially commissioned shows from emerging and established artists. The gallery was named in honor of Joan Dignam Schmaltz ’63, herself an artist, thanks to the generosity of a $2-million gift from Dana L. Schmaltz and Kate Enroth.
Welcoming visitors to the Schupf Art Center will be a dynamic space named “The Hub,” made possible by a $1-million gift from Mark W. Hubbert ’79. Located just inside the two-story pavilion, The Hub will be a sort of living room for Waterville, a public, light-filled space for gathering before and after shows, hosting receptions, or relaxing with friends or a book over coffee.
Bixby & Co., a Rockland-based chocolate company, will operate a retail store and an artisan café in the center. Bixby’s founder and CEO, Kate McAleer, said that the chance to open a location at the Schupf Art Center was a “golden opportunity.” The state’s only “bean-to-bar” chocolate company, it’s also one of just 12 certified women-owned businesses in Maine.
Reimagining a historic site
The Paul J. Schupf Art Center—a project by Susan T Rodriguez | Architecture * Design of New York City in collaboration with OPAL / Architecture Research Design of Belfast, Maine—reimagines Waterville’s historic crossroad at Main Street and Castonguay Square. The design emphasizes a blending of the old and new with a unique balance between the building’s interior and its south-facing, double-height atrium. The center’s beautiful glass wall will also tie into a redesign of Castonguay Square, creating a link between programming inside the center and a lively outdoor space for complementary programs and activities.
Drawing inspiration from Waterville’s heritage as a mill town, Rodriguez has included extensive use of industrial material in the project with concrete, steel, corrugated metal, cabling, and brick visible throughout. Additionally, two prominent features, the Castonguay Square overlook and the transparent skywalk to the Opera House, recall the city’s bridges, including the nearby Two Cent Bridge, a footbridge spanning the Kennebec River at the city’s Riverwalk at Head of Falls.
In keeping with Colby’s sustainability efforts, the Schupf Art Center will follow Passive House standards, thanks to a $100,000 grant to the Colby Museum from the Frankenthaler Climate Initiative. When completed, energy usage at the center will be 74 percent below the baseline national average for a mixed-use arts building.
Earlier this year, architect Susan Rodriguez said that she loved seeing how Colby realizes the importance of engaging with downtown Waterville and that the city recognizes that value as well. “The partnership, to me, is just very inspirational,” she told the Morning Sentinel. “This could be a model—the idea of the arts bringing downtown back to life.”
Since 2014 Colby’s downtown revitalization efforts have totaled approximately $85 million, including the $26-million Lockwood Hotel with its popular Front & Main restaurant; the $6.5-million Greene Block + Studios; and the $25-million Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons that houses 200 Colby faculty and students deeply involved in civic engagement activities throughout the city. Total investment downtown from Colby, private, and public sources is now $200 million.
The placement of the final beam marks the completion of the steel infrastructure for the two-story complex. Landry French Construction, the lead contractor, will begin enclosing the building, and interior work will continue throughout 2022.