Meg Perry Center finds new place for its feisty leftist politics, social change incubator in Portland’s Old Port

Posted April 15, 2014, at 11:52 a.m.
Meg Perry Center board members William Hessian (left) and Brian Leonard at the organization's new headquarters at 36 Market St. in Portland, which is scheduled to open May 1.
David Harry | The Forecaster
Meg Perry Center board members William Hessian (left) and Brian Leonard at the organization's new headquarters at 36 Market St. in Portland, which is scheduled to open May 1.

PORTLAND, Maine — After losing its lease at 644 Congress St. last fall, the Meg Perry Center is ready to reopen May 1 in the basement at 36 Market St. in the Old Port, below Market Street Eats.

A reopening celebration is tentatively scheduled for 5 p.m. that day, and will feature food, music and painting of a new mural in memory of activist Meg Perry, who died in an accident in 2005 while assisting victims of Hurricane Katrina. Perry was also an organizer at the People’s Free Space on Congress Street.

“What it looks like on May 1 is probably not what it will look like on Oct. 1,” center board member Brian Leonard said April 2.

With a one-year lease signed and furniture coming out of storage, Leonard and fellow board member William Hessian said they know the center’s Turnstyle Thursday open-mic nights and performances by the Hidden Ladder Collective will resume. They also said they are open to restoring the center’s mission as a gathering place that sometimes eludes definition.

Beyond that, they’re not exactly sure what will be going on at the center in six months.

“We want to be that alternative place where you gather,” Hessian said, whether for classes, musical performances or a quiet cup of coffee and a snack as the nightlife in the Old Port swirls past.

Rooted in feisty leftist politics, the reopened center will also reopen its “free radical lending library” and look to lend its voice to city and global causes and debates.

“We can’t predict what the local issues will be,” Leonard said, “but we want to be a part of them as they emerge.”

The search for a new home initially took the center’s board to Bayside, but Leonard said rents in that neighborhood are becoming pricey. It was also not as accessible for people who frequent the center.

Two floors beneath a surf shop and near a skate shop, Hessian and Leonard hope the Market Street center will readily find a vibe and expand on its six years of “organic” growth on Congress Street.

The Meg Perry Center opened in 2007, seeking to be “a center for peace, justice, sustainability and community,” according to its website. Now, new members are being sought, and the center will be available for rent, with fees on a sliding scale. Leonard said accommodations can be made for economic reasons.

“It will be available to everybody,” he said.

While wanting to continue as an “incubator” for social and artistic movements, Hessian said new ventures might include a “pay-as-you-go” recording studio.

Leonard and Hessian said they are confident the center’s momentum will resume, although the work ahead remains challenging.

“It is so exciting,” Leonard said, “but a little overwhelming.”

 

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