PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Officials at the University of Maine at Presque Isle were celebrating Wednesday after hearing news that they had received a substantial grant to establish the region’s first facility dedicated to the visual arts.
The university was given a $50,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to assist in the creation of the Northern Maine Center for the Cultural Arts, which will be established off campus at 149 State St. in what is known as the former Wight Furniture Building in the city’s downtown.
The project is a partnership between the college, the city of Presque Isle, the Wintergreen Arts Center, building owners and several others, Heather Sincavage, project director, UMPI art professor and director of the school’s Reed Fine Art Gallery, said Wednesday afternoon.
“We are thrilled,” she said about the award. “This news is so exciting for the college and the community.”
The university’s grant is one of 66 Our Town grant awards totaling $5.07 million and reaching 38 states announced Wednesday by NEA Chairman Jane Chu. Our Town grants fund arts-based community development projects in a way that augments existing local assets, according to the NEA.
The building at 149 State St. already houses the Wintergreen Arts Center on its first floor, and the Northern Maine Center for the Cultural Arts will be located on the second and third floors, according to Sincavage.
Sincavage estimated it will take approximately $257,000 to create the new visual arts center. Several fundraisers already have been held, and the college was awarded a $50,000 Maine Arts Commission Creative Communities = Economic Development grant in June 2013.
“On the second floor, we are going to create a downtown art gallery to serve as a sister space to the Reed Fine Art Gallery,” she said, speaking of the gallery located inside the campus center at UMPI. “On the third floor, we are going to have a studio space.”
The Wintergreen Arts Center is an 8-year-old nonprofit organization that works to encourage appreciation of the arts in children and families and stimulate creativity and innovation, while also offering an artistic community space for everyone. It offers art classes, performances, popular seasonal events and more.
Sincavage said that the building does not need much renovation. The bulk of the expense lies in making sure the space is in compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act standards. Both floors will be used for rotating high-profile exhibition displays, guest lectures and workshops, private events, small musical performances and private workspace for eight local artists.
“Since this is right in the downtown, it’s going to draw people into that area and make it even more vibrant,” said Sincavage. “It’s in a great area around the local shops and restaurants, there is space for public parking, and it’s a short walk from campus. Our students will be able to use it and get to it easily. Its perfect for us.”
Sincavage is especially excited because the 2,300-square-foot facility will allow the college to showcase more of its art collection, especially those of internationally renowned artist and Old Town-born sculptor Bernard Langlais. In May, the college received a gift of more than 800 Langlais art pieces from the Wisconsin-based Kohler Foundation Inc.
She said Wednesday that the donation has made Presque Isle one of the places to visit on the Langlais Art Trail, which encourages cultural tourism.
“Since the Reed Gallery isn’t very big, I can only put out a few Langlais pieces at a time,” she explained. “And since word that we have this larger collection has gotten out, we’ve had so many more visitors to the gallery and they want to see his work. This new center will help us be able to show more of his pieces and many others.”
Linda Schott, the president of UMPI, was pleased to hear the news.
““Our project is all about working together with local partners to provide arts-focused activities and opportunities in the downtown that will benefit the region in a variety of ways and we’re very excited to have an Our Town grant — only the third awarded in Maine and the first-ever to a Maine college or university — to help us do that,” she said.
“The University of Maine at Presque Isle demonstrates the best in creative community development and its work will have a valuable impact on its community,” said Chu.
The NEA received 275 applications for Our Town grants this year. Recommended grant amounts ranged from $25,000 to $200,000.