May 10, 2023

11 Maine Arts Residencies Where Creativity Thrives

Maine has long been a hub for artists looking for a productive escape.

"I believe that Maine has more summer-residency programs — and I think you could easily say per capita — than any other state," says Donna McNeil, a former director of the Maine Arts Commission who now runs Rockland's arts-focused Ellis-Beauregard Foundation. Since the days of the rusticators, artists have looked to Maine as a creative sanctuary, a place offering inspiration and opportunities both to indulge in solitude and embed in arts-friendly communities. Here are 11 contemporary residencies that attract artists from around the globe.

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Founded: 2015, following the deaths of its founders, married midcoast artists Joan Marie Beauregard and John David Ellis, though the couple had started another foundation in 2009, funding local arts education with largely anonymous donations (they called it Anonimo).

Setting: Currently, the foundation is building a small campus on a residential street in Rockland, not a mile from downtown's museums and galleries. When completed, facilities will include living quarters, four studios, and an exhibition and performance space.

Residents: Emerging through established artists in any discipline, including visual artists, composers, dancers, musicians, digital artists, and writers.

Backstory: Until last year, the residency was housed at the Lincoln Street Center, a former school. It's on pause in 2023, pending the completion of the new facilities. Meanwhile, the foundation continues to offer cross-genre grants and fellowships.

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Founded: 1950, by a consortium of Maine craft artists, originally in Montville. Architect Edward Larrabee Barnes's tiered campus of cedar-shingled buildings connected by boardwalks opened in Deer Isle in 1961.

Setting: Overlooking Jericho Bay, on Stinson Neck, an island connected by causeway to Deer Isle. The campus includes studios for ceramics, woodwork, fiber arts, glass, smithery, and more.

Residents: Emerging to established visual or craft-based artists and writers, who stay for a two-week open-studio residency.

Backstory: Among past instructors are German textile designer Anni Albers, maverick glassblower Dale Chihuly, and ceramist and painter Toshiko Takaezu. Community offerings, including for local students, have expanded over the years, and a digital design and fabrication lab launched in 2011 is indicative of the progressive ethos.

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Founded: 1901, in a sense, when Minneapolis artists Douglas and Marion Volk renovated their Maine lake cottage and started hosting artist friends, including VIPs of the Arts and Crafts Movement. In 2013, Hewnoaks became a nonprofit hosting a juried residency.

Setting: The shore of Kezar Lake, surrounded by the foothills of the White Mountains. Residents stay and work in a scatter of rustic cabins and gather in a post-and-beam lodge known as Rambling Timbers.

Residents: Visual artists, writers, musicians, filmmakers, performing artists, and others, with preference given to Maine artists and those in their early and middle careers, who stay for seven to ten days.

Backstory: Douglas and Marion Volk, a painter and a textile artist, respectively, hosted creative contemporaries like architect John Calvin Stevens and impressionist painter Childe Hassam. Volk heirs then ran a tourist camp on the property until 2005, when it was bequeathed to the University of Maine Foundation.

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Founded: In the works since 2018, when theater and opera vets Edwin and Matt Cahill bought their Maine property, Hogfish accepted its first residents last year.

Setting: Beckett's Castle, an 1874 turreted stone cottage surrounded by rose gardens on Cape Elizabeth's rocky coast.

Residents: Performing artists and some visual artists, who stay a month, with a production at the end of it.

Backstory: Portland lawyer and poet Sylvester Beckett welcomed his writer and artist friends to gather in his Gothic cottage in the 1870s and ’80s. Its rose gardens were planted by a previous owner, who won the castle in an auction and spent the next 30 years planting and tending them.

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Founded: 1989, informally, with islanders Raquel and Peter Boehmer offering free rent and the island's Lupine Gallery donating studio space. Incorporated as a nonprofit six years later.

Setting: Only New England's most storied arts island, ringed by lobsterboats and dramatic headlands. Residents have a room and studio in a former post office shared with a shop.

Residents: Visual artists — skewing contemporary and including photographers, sculptors, and digital artists — at any point in their careers, with a preference for those who have strong Maine ties. Also, a special two-week summer residency for teachers.

Backstory: Five-week spring and fall residencies, accommodating just one artist at time, put participants in a Monhegan art lineage that encompasses Jamie Wyeth, Lynne Drexler, Elena Jahn, Rockwell Kent, and countless more.

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Founded: 2018, by the Libra Foundation, which bought up and fixed up much of Monson's Main Street to spur economic development in a town hurting after the close of the local furniture mill. The Abbott Watts Residency for Photography was added in 2021.

Setting: The center of downtown Monson, on the edge of the Appalachian's Trail's 100 Mile Wilderness and on the shore of Lake Hebron. The clean, bright studios are freshly renovated, as are the homes where residents stay. Access to a woodshop and metal shop.

Residents: Visual artists, writers, and photographers from around the world at any stage of their careers, who stay for two to four weeks. Monson Arts will host some 100 residents in 2023.

Backstory: Once a slate mining town, then a center for furniture making, Monson also has a serious artistic pedigree. Painter Carl Sprinchorn called it home, as did seminal 20th-century photographer Berenice Abbott. Photographer Todd Watts assisted and printed photos for Abbott for years, and participants in Monson's special photo residency utilize his studio and darkroom.

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Founded: 1946, by artists Willard W. Cummings, Sidney Simon, Henry Varnum Poor, and Charles Cutler, all traditionally inclined artists who envisioned a school with instructors spanning a range of styles, approaches, and philosophies.

Setting: A 350-acre Madison farm that once belonged to Cummings's family. (It's said that when he proposed the inland location, Poor declared, "That's good — there won't be any of those lousy Maine rocks people love to paint!") Private studios among woods and pastures are a short walk from Wesserunsett Lake, and campus resources include wood and metal shops, ceramic facilities, a media lab, and a 24-hour library with 15,000 books and other resources on art and art history.

Residents: Emerging visual and craft artists from around the world (not limited to painting and sculpture), who stay for a nine-week summer program.

Backstory: The first generation of Skowhegan artists — Alex Katz, Ellsworth Kelly, William King, Nancy Graves, and Janet Fish — became art-world darlings, helping raise the school's profile, but the list of high-profile alums and visiting faculty in the years since is vast and varied; it includes Claes Oldenburg, Louise Nevelson, Roy Lichtenstein, Barbara Kruger, and many more.

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Founded: 2016, when the contemporary arts gallery and venue — a Congress Street anchor, founded in 2002 — converted one of its upstairs rental studios to accommodate visiting artists.

Setting: In the middle of Portland's Arts District, surrounded by other artists in studios that SPACE rents in the historic Durant Block.

Residents: Visual artists, writers, musicians, performing artists, and others from anywhere in the country. Length of stay varies. An independent press housed in the same building has worked with residents on editioned prints.

Backstory: Residents have run the gamut from local creators — SPACE recently hosted Portland musician, photographer, and podcast host Genius Black — to documentarians, installation artists, choreographers, and embroiderers who’ve traveled across the country. One of the state's most diverse programs.

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Founded: 2019, the result of legacy planning by arts patron Mary-Leigh Smart, a co-founder of Ogunquit's Barn Gallery, and artist Beverly Hallam. The pair lived in the modernist home they called Surf Point from 1971 until their deaths in 2017 and 2013, respectively. Surf Point hosted its first residents in 2019.

Setting: Four large and very new studios overlooking 50 acres of woods and coastline managed by the York Land Trust. Renowned writer May Sarton once lived on the site, and Surf Point's substantial library includes a complete collection of her work.

Residents: Visual artists, curators, writers, and other U.S.-based arts professionals, invited on the basis of nomination by a group of alumni and other artists and academics convened by the foundation. The monthly residencies last three weeks.

Backstory: Just a few years into its existence — and interrupted right out of the gate by the pandemic — Surf Point has already hosted an impressive roster of artists. The foundation's first-ever alumni exhibition, showing through May 28 at York's George Marshall Store Gallery, highlights more than 30 of them, as well as work from late founder Hallam.

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Founded: 2013, after the Tides Institute, a presence on Eastport's Water Street since 2002, bought and restored the 1887 downtown storefront known as the Holmes Building.

Setting: In the middle of Eastport's downtown and just steps from its working waterfront, with views of Passamaquoddy Bay. Residents are housed in a historic home and a renovated former church, within walking distance of a pair of studios, one of which is a print shop, with a letterpress and other printmaking equipment.

Residents: Visual artists and craftspeople (though there are no specialized studios other than for printmaking) at any stage of their career from around the world, who stay for two-, four-, or eight-week terms.

Backstory: The Tides Institute places special emphasis on residents finding ways to engage with the community in Eastport and/or elsewhere down east, mandating regular open-studio hours, and most residents give public artist talks or demonstrations at the end of their residency.

A post shared by Watershed Ceramics (@watershedceramics)

Founded: 1986, when a group of artists converted an abandoned brickmaking factory into a space for clay artists to live and work.

Setting: A 54-acre campus on a Newcastle back road, next to a sprawling organic farm, with an open-concept studio and all manner of ceramics equipment, including many electric, gas, and wood-fired kilns.

Residents: Clay artists from around the world, students to professionals, for programs that last two to four weeks. One artist each year is chosen for the Salad Days residency, crafting nearly 500 plates and bowls (!) over the span of seven months for the center's annual fundraiser, during which attendees use them to, yep, eat salad.

Backstory: The Watershed campus was once the site of a waterstruck-brick factory, which relied on clay from the banks of the Sheepscot and other nearby streams. During the peak of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, Watershed hosted programming for people living with the illness, providing a space for creativity and community support. This year's popular Salad Days festival is July 8.


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