CMCA Gets a Fresh Start
by Eric J. Taubert
Maine has tendrils. They reach out across the country and twist in intertwined curlicues around the globe. They’re tendrils of culture, influence, business, skill, notoriety and creativity. Oftentimes they’re not easy to see, until a few of them spiral together into something more organized and the root system is revealed. This is exactly what’s happening right now at the brand new Center for Maine Contemporary Art (CMCA) facility in Rockland.
The CMCA has been supporting, exhibiting and sustaining arts and artists with ties to Maine since its founding in 1952. The story of this organization’s journey — from its beginnings as a scrappy upstart presenting shows in barns and backrooms to evolving into the leading contemporary arts organization in the state of Maine — is almost as unlikely as it is inspirational.
“In 1967,” stated CMCA Executive Director and Chief Curator, Suzette McAvoy, “we bought and renovated an old firehouse in the historic downtown of Rockport — and we were there until just last year. It was a funky old building with a lot of charm to it. It was built in the late 19th century as a livery stable. It had been heavily renovated over the years and there wasn’t a straight line in the place. Uneven wooden floors. Old plaster walls. The space was no longer conducive to showing contemporary art. We were limited by the scale and weight of things that we could show in that building. Plus, we were in a historic residential neighborhood — so we had no foot traffic, no visibility and no parking.
“In 2009, this institution was really on its last legs, financially. It was a do-or-die moment and I was brought on to turn it around.
“For the past 20 years, the CMCA has contemplated moving. In 2013, when this piece of property became available, we said this is it, we have to make the move now, because we will never get a chance to get this prime location again.”
That “prime location” of the new CMCA is a third of an acre of land at 21 Winter St. (adjacent to the Strand Theatre and within sight of the Farnsworth Art Museum) in “the flourishing arts center of central Rockland.” To make the move a reality, a capital campaign with a $5M goal was set, and philanthropist Marilyn Moss Rockefeller returned as chair of the Board of Trustees at the CMCA to lead the fundraising effort.