A home for the arts

By Jay Davis | Nov 21, 2019

Waterfall Arts calls itself the city's community arts center because it is the one place where art of all kinds is made, taught, viewed, heard, embraced and enjoyed. Waterfall is, then, our home for the arts. It is welcoming to all, as a fine home should be, and as it matures as a community resource, there comes a time, which is now, that improvements are due. We will soon be asking our friends and neighbors, including you, to help us.

As a journalist covering Belfast in the 1970s and '80s, I watched the city transform itself from a hardscrabble factory town complete with chicken feathers and foul odors to our current perch near the top of must-see communities in Maine. A key ingredient in the city's veer toward redefinition and rebirth was the unplanned arrival of a colorful palette of painters, musicians, photographers, writers and culture-seekers who quickly formed a community of their own in our midst.

Belfast has always supported a small arts presence, usually individual artists who maintained studios and teachers who operated out of their homes or small storefronts. What it did not have was an arts center where residents could partake of the transforming practice of a variety of arts.

That changed in 2006, when the City Council asked The Arts Center at Kingdom Falls in Montville to purchase the vacant Governor Anderson School on High Street. Al and Lorna Crichton of Liberty and a handful of creative friends rounded up the $215,000 purchase price and, within months, classes, exhibits, performances and discussions filled the 85-year-old building with the power of art.

Today, Waterfall Arts is a busy place most every day. Within its walls students learn to play the guitar, use gold leaf, make and fire pottery, pull prints from modern presses, watch images emerge from blank paper in the photo darkroom. A terrific after-school program encourages kids to turn what's in their heads into accomplished art.

Just as much as Belfast needs a community arts center, Waterfall Arts needs to update and improve its facilities to serve more people better. Those two realities are joined in a $2.65 million capital campaign that we call Waterfall Rising.

Specifically, the campaign will fund handicapped access to all floors of the oddly structured building. It will install energy-efficient windows and vastly increase insulation, making the heat pumps we introduced in 2017 more productive: In the end we will have a net-zero-energy building! The campaign will improve the old school's exterior and provide attractive landscaping and signage. And it will realign interior spaces to improve interactions with the public.

Making these improvements costs money, and Waterfall has been working with donors and funders for the past three years in the “silent” phase of the campaign. We have raised more than $1.3 million, including a $420,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency that will help us identify, remove and dispose of some original building materials that no longer pass muster, without which the improvement plan couldn't happen.

On Nov. 12 Waterfall presented to the public architect renderings of the project, a floor plan and other details that demonstrate our commitment to public access, community integration and the environment. I was in the audience as local officials Sen. Erin Herbig, Rep. Jan Dodge, Belfast Mayor Eric Sanders and Waterfall leaders extolled the project. It was the beginning of the “loud” campaign to raise $1 million more to bring our vision of a modern community arts center to reality.

Over the next few months you will be hearing from the Waterfall Rising Committee about contributing to our capital campaign, which you can do by going to our website, waterfallarts.org, and clicking on the Donate button. I hope you will say yes and be generous, as I have been. An emerging community like Belfast must have art available to all. That's what Waterfall has been providing for years and, with your help, will continue to do so far into the future.

Jay Davis, an art lover, is a retired journalist and co-author of the "History of Belfast in the 20th Century" with Tim Hughes.

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