The dynamic momentum to revitalize downtown Waterville reaches a major milestone December 17 with the opening of the Paul J. Schupf Art Center. Developed in partnership by Colby College and Waterville Creates, the new home for Waterville’s leading arts institutions marks the completion of the initial strategy to support the city’s resurgence.
A little over seven years ago Colby, city officials, business leaders, and community members came together to develop a plan on how to revitalize Waterville. What resulted is a $200-million investment of public and private funds, including almost $100 million from Colby that has dramatically impacted the city—from an influx of new businesses and jobs to a stronger tax base for the city and higher property values that have benefited longtime residents.
“This is a historic moment for Waterville, a remarkable city that has reimagined itself time and again,” said Colby College President David A. Greene. “Colby and Waterville have a history that spans more than two centuries. We could not be prouder to call Waterville home and to be in partnership with a community that is strong, welcoming, and resilient.”
The $18-million Paul J. Schupf Art Center will be a hub and destination for the arts by bringing under one roof Waterville’s leading arts institutions. Connecting directly to the historic Waterville Opera House, the 32,000-square-foot center will be home to community arts organization Waterville Creates and its three programming divisions—the Maine Film Center, Ticonic Gallery + Studios, and the Waterville Opera House.
“Through his engagement with Colby, Paul Schupf made Waterville his adopted home,” said President Greene. “His final wish—and perhaps his most extraordinary act of generosity—was to ensure that arts and culture, a bedrock of all great cities, would thrive in downtown Waterville. This building that carries his name would, if he were still here today, be a wellspring of pride for him.”
Schupf Arts will also include an extension of the Colby College Museum of Art via the vibrant new Joan Dignam Schmaltz Gallery of Art. While it has always been free and open to the public, the museum’s expansion to Main Street will offer new ways to connect with the Waterville community and visitors.
The annual Joy to the Ville, a day of free, family-friendly holiday activities on December 17, will be the first in a series of events to celebrate the opening.
Arts = Revitalization
The arts have been central to Waterville’s resurgence. Throughout a collaborative, strategic revitalization planning process, the goal has been to create a dynamic regional arts ecosystem to enrich life in the city, bring new economic activity and vitality to downtown, and continue to grow Waterville’s stature as Maine’s next great city where people want to live, work, and visit.
“The Paul J. Schupf Art Center is the embodiment of Waterville’s belief and investment in the arts as core to our community’s identity and an essential part of civic life,” said Waterville Creates President + CEO Shannon Haines. “Bringing together Waterville’s most beloved arts institutions in the heart of downtown, Schupf Arts will create a sense of vibrancy year-round, day and night. It will attract artists, performers, filmmakers, and patrons from near and far and, most importantly, will ensure that all members of our community have access to outstanding arts experiences for generations to come.”
In addition to the Paul J. Schupf Art Center, Colby opened Greene Block + Studios, a unique arts collaborative just a few blocks south of Schupf Arts, a little over a year ago. Bringing together students, scholars, artists, and the Waterville community to engage with and connect to the arts, it is also home to the Colby Museum’s Lunder Institute for American Art.
Additionally, the College is building the Gordon Center for Creative and Performing Arts on campus, the new home for Colby’s departments of Music, Cinema Studies, and Performance, Theater, and Dance, which will open in fall 2023.
Other major projects led by Colby that have been part of the overall revitalization initiative include the recently opened Lockwood Hotel and its Front & Main restaurant as well as the Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons, where 200 Colby students live and are involved in civic engagement activities throughout the community. Just a few weeks ago, the city also celebrated the completion of an important downtown road and streetscape improvement project that the College contributed to.
In 2014-15, when Colby began acquiring properties on Main Street, the tax revenue from those buildings was $42,000. After redeveloping them and agreeing to support the city with market-rate taxes, including the Paul J. Schupf Art Center, the College’s properties now generate roughly $500,000 a year. “This is a wonderful annuity for Waterville,” said President Greene. “It’s a major contribution that will not only support the maintenance and upkeep of downtown but also help drive further redevelopment.”
As an extension of the Colby Museum of Art, the Joan Dignam Schmaltz Gallery of Art will represent a new opportunity for the Waterville community and visitors to forge connections with art, place, and each other. Technically equipped to present a wide range of work, the gallery’s exhibitions will be on par with what the Colby Museum presents on campus.
The inaugural show, Light on Main Street, showcases a series of luminous artworks, including videos and sculptures that will fill the gallery with wonder and delight at the darkest time of the year. The exhibition also includes soundscapes and playlists designed by student artists from the Waterville Alternative High School in response to the moving image works. Following Light on Main Street will be Ashley Bryan / Paula Wilson: Take the World into Your Arms, which opens in February.
An important work in the public pavilion will be Fields Alive with Pollen + Wings, a two-story monumental mural by Maine-based artist and Lunder Institute Residential Fellow Tessa Greene O’Brien that will bring the outside in by combining hand-painted native Maine flora and fauna with colorful geometric shapes.
“With the opening of the Paul J. Schupf Art Center, and within it, the museum’s Joan Dignam Schmaltz Gallery of Art, we have a new opportunity to open access and make it possible for many more people to experience how art, in all its beauty and complexity, can inspire, connect us, and even transform our lives,” said Jacqueline Terrassa, the Carolyn Muzzy Director of the Colby College Museum of Art. “The museum’s downtown exhibition program is designed to build on our incredible synergies with Waterville Creates, and together make Schupf Arts a cultural living room where even a very short, casual visit can surprise, enthrall, and change the day.”
A Diverse Set of Flexible, Multipurpose Spaces
In addition to the Colby Museum’s Joan Dignam Schmaltz Gallery of Art, Schupf Arts will also offer a wide range of programming and activities through Waterville Creates. These include:
- Three state-of-the-art cinemas operated by the Maine Film Center (MFC), which brings world-class independent film to Maine and is the only Sundance Art House Project cinema in the state. Schupf Arts will also be home to MFC’s annual Maine International Film Festival, a 10-day celebration in July that attracts filmmakers and film lovers from around the world.
- A gallery, a 24/7 clay studio with eight pottery wheels and three kilns, and an arts-education classroom that are part of Ticonic Gallery + Studios. Ticonic Gallery’s inaugural exhibition will be Common Threads, a collection of various works that represent individual and collective stories, hopes, and dreams for Waterville collected by artists Elizabeth Jabar and Colleen Kinsella.
- Studio 1902, a rehearsal space for the Waterville Opera House and a flexible space for programming and receptions. Named for the year that the historic hall was built, it will be approximately the same size as the opera house stage with a sprung dance floor and a mirrored wall.
Complementing the arts programming will be award-winning Bixby Chocolate, which will open Maine’s first chocolate café on the first floor of Schupf Arts. The café will offer retail chocolates, prepared chocolate beverages, and specialty coffee, and also feature the company’s signature bean-to-bar products, seasonal bonbons, toffee, and Maine sea-salted caramels.
There will also be a series of spaces for the community to come together and connect with each other, including a two-story illuminated pavilion overlooking Castonguay Square.
The Ed Harris Box Office, which will enable patrons to access information and tickets for all Schupf Arts’ programming and activities, is named after actor and former Maine International Film Festival guest and honoree Ed Harris, who contributed to the fundraising initiative for the building.
Character and Collaboration
Preserving the character and scale of Main Street, the upper portion of the building extends the brick facade of downtown storefronts. That’s complemented by a curtain of glass covering the south side of the building and large windows on Main Street that create a unique level of transparency, allowing people outside to see the creativity happening within, inviting them to participate, while those inside will see activity happening downtown.
The design goal is to showcase the personality of the organizations within the building while highlighting a shared public space that reflects the spirit of community collaboration that’s been at the heart of Waterville’s ability to successfully reinvent itself.
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