A whimsical visual artist, an essayist, an expert fiddler and a modern dance innovator were selected as the Maine Arts Commission’s 2009 Fellows. At an awards showcase at the Bangor Opera House last Friday, each of the four winners presented their work — from choreographer Alison Chase’s athletic, charming dance piece “Televisition,” performed by dancers from the Pilobolus Dance Company, to artist Randy Regier’s photo spread of his “Toy-Gantic” art piece.
Narrowing it to just four from the 350 qualified applicants isn’t an easy job, according to Maine Arts Commission chairman John Rohman. But then again, it’s always better to have too much, rather than too little, when it comes to art in any medium.
“It’s a grueling process. The only [criterion] is artistic excellence. We got 350 applicants this year, and about half were in the visual arts category,” said Rohman. “It’s a real eye-opener as to the quality of art being produced in this state. You get a true overview of what’s happening here.”
The $13,000 grant is a boon to anyone who receives it. An up-and-coming writer, such as literary arts fellow Penelope Schwartz Robinson, can use the money to fund another book, while an established Maine figure such as Traditional Arts Fellow Don Roy can use it to try out new ideas that build upon past successes.
“It affords many of the younger, emerging ones the luxury of time. One of the fellows last year was a teacher who waited tables in the summer. With the grant, she was able to spend her summer on her art, rather than working. It was really tremendous for her,” said Rohman. “Whereas with established artists, it allows them to try something different, that can be more gutsy and challenging, since there are no demands, financial or otherwise.”
While the big award is an extremely competitive pool, the MAC also offers a Good Idea Grant, which gives between $1,000 and $1,500 to Maine artists who are attempting to launch their careers.
“The [Good Idea] Grants are much smaller, but they can really make a difference. It can mean helping a potter buy a kiln, or getting a writer a laptop,” said Rohman.
A look over the list of those who received MAC grants turns up a very lopsided majority of recipients hailing from southern Maine. Rohman and other members of the MAC have been working hard to get artists from northern and eastern Maine to take advantage of the resources the organizations offers.
“We’re really trying to get the word out about these resources,” said Rohman. “We are actively looking for artists from northern and eastern Maine. We know they’re out there. We’d love to be overwhelmed with applications.”
More information about Maine Arts Commission grants and programs can be found at www.mainearts.maine.gov.
Performing Arts Fellow
One of the founders of the Pilobolus Dance Company, Alison Chase has lived in Brooksville since the 1990s. Pilobolus, known for its physically challenging, gymnastic choreography, has received critical acclaim and awards ranging from the Samuel H. Scripps American Dance Festival Award to an Emmy. It grew out of a class Chase taught at Dartmouth College in the 1970s, eventually expanding to become one of the most renowned dance companies in the word, praised for its humor, inventiveness and visually striking aesthetic. Chase left Pilobolus in 2006, forming Apogee Arts, her own dance company. In 2007, Chase collaborated with puppeteer Mia Kanazawa, a troupe of dancers and steel drummers and some heavy machinery on the dance and music spectacle called “Quarryography,” performed in the Settlement Quarry in Stonington. Another quarry-based performance, titled “Q2 Habitat,” is set for 2009-2010.
Visual Arts Fellow
A recent transplant to Maine, Randy Regier makes his home in Portland, after years spent in Oregon and Kansas working in the auto industry. His experiences working in an industrial setting gave him the skills he needed to make his art; Regier trades in a playful, engaging kind of conceptual art, utilizing meticulously crafted toys to tell stories and also comment on society. His model planes, cars and trains, action figures, robots and other creations are both delightfully kitschy and deeply evocative of many different themes. One of his most recent creations, an 8-foot scale model of an ocean liner called the “Toy-Gantic,” ended up taking on a life of its own, as Regier developed a wildly imaginative storyline to accompany the toy boat. Regier received a master of fine arts degree from Maine College of Art in 2007.
Traditional Arts Fellow
The name Don Roy is synonymous with Maine music. Anyone attending the American Folk Festival on the Bangor Waterfront has at least heard his name, if not danced to his expert, irresistible Franco-American fiddling. Roy, who also plays guitar, mandolin and banjo, grew up in Rockland, and absorbed the traditions of Franco-American music from such Maine luminaries as Ben Guillemette, Joe and Gerry Robichaud, and Graham Townsend, while also studying the traditions of Ireland and the Maritimes provinces. He’s often called the “Dean of Franco-American music,” so widespread is his influence. Roy crafts violins and violas in his studio, and plays with his wife, pianist Cindy Roy, and bassist Jay Young, regularly throughout the state.
Literary Arts Fellow
Penelope Schwartz Robinson’s alternately funny and sad collection of essays, “Slippery Men,” recounts the tough, quirky lives of Mainers — and folks from other places, too — in calm, exacting, poetic detail. The book, which garnered her the Stonecoast Book Prize, lifts her into the short list of great Maine writers. Robinson is a professor of English at the University of Maine at Farmington, and in addition to her book, her essays have appeared in numerous literary magazines, and have been heard on both Maine and National Public Radio. She wrote a feature column for the Portland Press Herald for a number of years. She lives in Cape Elizabeth with her husband.