MILBRIDGE, Maine — A newly renovated home is helping Danielle Woerner bring the arts to the Milbridge area.
Woerner and her husband, Claude Johnson, bought and renovated a large home on Fish Point to serve as a base for the Sunrise County Arts Institute, which they founded in April 2014.
In January, the institute was incorporated as a Maine charitable organization, and Woerner and Johnson also are pursuing federal 501(c)3 nonprofit status.
“What we want to do is provide a resource for people to learn and also to share their art right in this part of Down East,” Woerner said.
Active arts groups exist in both Machias and in Ellsworth, each about 30 miles away. She hopes her institute can provide a more local outlet, she said.
Woerner is a musician who teaches private lessons and leads workshops. She has a bachelor of arts degree in music from Bard College in Annandale-On-Hudson, New York, and a master’s certificate in songwriting from Berklee College of Music in Boston. As a singer and recording artist, she’s been a soloist at most of New York City’s major recital halls, as well as throughout the East Coast and has toured in Spain and Germany.
Johnson recently retired after 40 years in information technology. He has been responsible for IT development and management.
The pair began living part-time in Milbridge in 2008 and have since relocated from New York to pursue their dream of developing the institute to foster the creative and performing arts in Washington County.
Helping to make that dream a reality is an attached three-bedroom apartment for artists coming to the institute for a retreat or to lead workshops.
The couple rents out the apartment to both summer vacationers and artists.
“That helps us to cover our expenses,” Woerner said.
Woerner and Johnson purchased the large home in April 2014, investing “everything we have” into the building, Woerner said.
“We put a lot of sweat equity into the place,” she said, adding that the couple spent the last 18 months renovating.
The home is located along the ocean shore where “artists of all stripes” are inspired by the views, she said.
The upstairs, which was converted into a music studio, includes seating for “a couple dozen” people. A few can even sit in a balcony, looking down over the grand piano that is the centerpiece of the room.
“I walk into the room and I feel inspired,” Woerner said.
On Sept. 28, the studio hosted a “TLC” or “tiny little concert” to celebrate its completion. Another concert is planned for Dec. 27. Woerner said seating is limited so those who want to attend need to reserve a spot ahead of time.
In the spring, while continuing to renovate the studio, Woerner directed a musical at Narraguagus High School. It was the first musical the high school had done in three years.
“It created … some real energy to launch a drama program at the school,” she said.
Woerner is working to raise $20,000 as a match for a $20,000 grant from the Villchur Foundation, a private charity in Woodstock, New York.
“The match is basically going to enable us to offer more programs and provide a school for people who can’t afford it in Washington County,” she said.