Enthusiastic crowds filled the Paul J. Schupf Art Center last weekend for the much-anticipated grand opening of Waterville’s innovative arts hub. Visitors of all ages brought the building to life, filling both floors of the expansive, contemporary center with their voices and energy.
For those involved in the center’s conception, planning, and creation over the last seven years, it was a dramatic realization of a long-held dream.
“This is a magical day for me,” said President David A. Greene, who spoke at Friday night’s preview event. “I think it’s a magical day for Waterville, for the arts that are here.”
Schupf Arts is a destination for visual arts, arts education, and film under one roof. It’s a one-stop venue rooted in community, creativity, and collaboration with programming that’s accessible to everyone.
Opening weekend events included Friday night’s gala, an official ribbon-cutting, and the fifth annual “Joy to the Ville” on Saturday hosted by community arts organization Waterville Creates. Visitors roamed the center’s galleries, classrooms, and public spaces that were brimming with art-making activities, demonstrations, and conversation.
Outside, the season’s first snow gently fell, providing a festive, snow-globe-like mood while drawing attention to the center’s abundant glass, especially the glass curtain overlooking Castonguay Square, where random snowball fights erupted around the giant, lighted evergreen.
The building’s ample glass is meant to be an invitation, said President Greene. “When you see all of this glass here, it is a sign that you are welcome here. This is a place for you,” he added. “And for that, I couldn’t be prouder.”
As he spoke from the landing in the center’s grand staircase, he reinforced that the building is about community. “The arts are at the center of it, but arts build community. And everything I know about Waterville is that people here care about being in this space, being with each other. And when I see you all today here, I feel that this is exactly what this building was designed for.”
A bold step
Away from the joyful bustle in the center’s main corridors, two first-floor art galleries welcomed visitors for moments of quiet engagement. Ticonic Gallery, operated by Waterville Creates, featured Common Threads, a community arts project that includes portraits, written words, and prints. The Joan Dignam Schmaltz Gallery of Art, an extension of the Colby Museum of Art, invited visitors into its Light on Main Street exhibition with three videos and an interactive sculpture.
Since the museum’s beginnings in 1959, its vision has been to serve Colby students as well as the broader region as a cultural and educational resource, said Jacqueline Terrassa, the Carolyn Muzzy Director of the Colby College Museum of Art. While the museum has always been a part of Waterville, as well as free and open to all, it can now offer a different kind of invitation by being on Main Street.
With the opening of Schupf Arts, there now exists a conduit, a bridge, that invites people to go back and forth between the museum’s galleries on campus and the Schmaltz Gallery downtown to experience art in all its forms, said Terrassa, who also spoke Friday night.
“So today we take another long step, a very bold step, in that process by having the Joan Dignam Schmaltz Gallery of Art of the Colby College Museum of Art. And in doing so growing the community—a community for the arts right here in Waterville—in ways that expand access to art and artists and opens up possibilities for everybody.”
A bright future
Even as people milled about Schupf Arts on that snowy, magical Saturday, others were thinking about the future.
Just as they were on a November night in 2015, when the community gathered to celebrate Waterville and what was to come. That night, the Harold Alfond Foundation donated $10 million to kick-start Waterville’s revitalization.
The completion of the Paul J. Schupf Art Center marks the completion of Phase I of Waterville’s thrilling revitalization. Revitalization by and through the arts that positions the city for continued economic growth and an enhanced quality of life.
“We knew we had work to do to bring our town along,” recounted chairman of the Harold Alfond Foundation Greg Powell, Friday night’s final speaker. “We committed to bringing this town back, and back it has come.”
In the envelope of Schupf Arts, guided and inspired by Waterville’s premier arts institutions contained within, “the best of contemporary art will grace the walls, the art of our kids will be nurtured and celebrated, and the heart and soul of this community and beyond will be enriched as only the arts can do,” said Powell, a Waterville native.
But what does the future hold for us tonight? Powell asked. “It holds a commitment to do more. For what we celebrate tonight will be just another beginning.”
With that, Powell announced that the foundation would lead the collective commitment to do more. “On behalf of the Harold Alfond Foundation,” he said, “we’ll start this off with a new grant to Waterville Creates for the future in the amount of $3.2 million.”