PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Melissa Cote, a 39-year-old Caribou resident, remembers that when she was young, “making snowmen with Play-Doh” was about as creative as she got.
“We didn’t have easels and paint sets and fun places to go and do creative things,” she said Saturday. “Unless it was during art class at school.”
But Cote is glad that her three children — Chris, 11, Ben, 9 and Aleshia, 7 — have access to such resources at the Wintergreen Arts Center, a creative workshop in downtown Presque Isle that the family regularly visits.
The arts center, which opened in 2006 at the Aroostook Centre Mall, celebrated its grand opening at the new location on March 6 after being closed except for a few events during a more than yearlong renovation.
A nonprofit organization, the center offers art classes, performances and other events for children and adults. The facility has been a magnet for youths who have flocked to the facility to draw, paint, make gingerbread houses and decorate pumpkins.
Officials announced in November 2008 that the center would move to 149 State St. Tony Burgess and Glenn Capp purchased the two-story State Street building and offered the Wintergreen Arts Center a 10-year lease. Under the proposal, the arts center will not have to pay rent for 10 years, and the building owners will pay the utilities for the entire term of the lease.
The new State Street center is wheelchair-accessible and provides visitors with a quiet place to relax, read and write. The facility contains a fully furnished art studio complete with chalkboards, white boards, easels, art supplies and a children’s gallery with a window seat and other equipment. A paintbrush is suspended from the ceiling. Colorful child-size tables and chairs are set up to serve as workstations, and children’s artwork hangs from the walls.
Another part of the facility contains a play kitchen area with a stove, cupboards and more, and shelves of books line the reading corner. Comfortable sofas and chairs invite readers.
For adults, there is artwork on display in the new Barressi Financial Art Gallery. Tim Gagnon, a 29-year-old Castle Hill painter and owner of Gagnon Studio, is exhibiting his work this month.
As time goes on and more money is raised, officials hope to outfit the center with a snack bar, a landscaped walkway and other features. They also want to landscape around the walkway and storefront.
On Saturday afternoon, employees swept floors and cleaned tables after entertaining more than 20 children during the Saturday Opening Studio, which takes place from 10 a.m. to noon every Saturday. For a $5 fee, children are allowed to play and participate in a themed project.
The center features after-school programming Tuesday through Friday, and is available for birthday parties and field trips. On April 3, the center will sponsor the fourth annual Artful Egg, a celebration that will include a petting zoo, egg dyeing, games, a bunny-themed art project and more. Because space is limited, there will be three starting times— 10 a.m., 11 a.m. and noon.
Aleshia Cote, 7, has been to the new center and participated in events when the facility was at the mall.
“I like the new place,” she said Saturday. “I like to draw.”
Karen Peters, 33, of Presque Isle began taking her son to the arts center when it was at the mall.
“We were new in town at the time, so my son met a lot of kids at the pumpkin decorating events and other activities,” she said. “It is nice to have this beautiful new place right here in Presque Isle. It’s a very unique, kids-only place.”
Her son Logan, 8, agreed. He said Saturday that he has taken an interest in painting since attending an event at the center.
“It’s fun to go there,” he said. “It is a lot better than school.”