Artist colony in Maine will be oceanside ‘retreat’


Visually inspiring York, Maine, is full of historical landmarks. This 1908 postcard depicts the Passaconaway In at York Cliffs.

YORK, Maine (AP) — It was the vision and legacy of the late art patron Mary Leigh Smart and artist Beverly Hallam to create an artist’s residency at their 44-acre oceanfront property. Today, that vision is ever closer to reality, with interviews underway for the inaugural residents who will arrive in York this fall.
The Surf Point Foundation was created by Smart and Hallam in 1988 so that upon their deaths their duplex home, a second house called Wild Knoll where author and poet May Sarton once lived, and the surrounding property would be transformed into a residency for artists, art historians, architects, critics and designers.

Hallam died in 2013 and Smart in 2017, and in the two years since the board of the foundation has been working to create the nuts-and-bolts framework for program. This work is evolving, said Executive Director Yael Reinharz, but the first concrete steps have already been taken. And she’s excited at what the future holds in store — for the foundation, for the artists and the citizens of York.

“I think people will get excited once the residents arrive,” said Reinharz. “They will see how valuable art is to our society. People try to measure the arts and they can’t. You can’t measure how people feel, how art changes their lives. It’s important that we provide that bridge.”

The residency program will begin modestly and then expand over the years as financing allows. Architect Richard Renner of Portland recently unveiled the plans for the property before the town’s Planning Board. The first phase will be to ready Surf Point itself, a modern home built in 1971, for three residents starting this fall.

“First of all the house is in great shape,” said Renner. “It was built very, very well. We are making minor architectural changes inside the house so that the artists have a place to live and work. Two bedrooms need a door and we have to replace the existing septic system. That’s pretty much it, and I’m happy to say that.

“One of the important goals of the foundation is to comply with the land trust, make minimal changes to the character of the environment. The essence of this development is peace and quiet for the artists there, and their ability to enjoy, be inspired by and abide in the natural character of the site. A more intensive use is counter to the purpose of this cultural institution.”

The artists themselves have been on the minds of the foundation’s board of directors, a group comprised of family members, art historians, museum directors and art professors hand-picked by Smart and Hallam. With Reinharz, they have been working to set up the parameters of the residency itself.

“There are many, many peers in the field that have different models,” she said. “We have talked to many of them. We have a year-round facility, which is great. Many residency programs in Maine do not. But really, we want to take the first year, if not more, to learn from the residents.”

As for the residents, said Reinharz, “special attention will be given to women and people of color. And we also want to place a priority on people who have a connection to Maine. It’s not exclusive to those identities, but we want to have a space for people who have limited opportunities” elsewhere.

“Not everyone is going to check all the boxes, but it’s 2019 and its time to get with a program of inclusion, equality and diversity,” she said. “Many people have been sidelined and that includes women, who are a majority of the population. We’re going to start there.”

What kind of artist will they be? Reinharz said the definition of artist “is really blurring at this point in time. People have multi-talent practices. Someone may be known for curating but also is an artist. Or there could be a mother who is an artist as well. Maybe a sculptor applies, but they’re not coming here with a massive piece because that’s not what we offer. What we can offer is a context and an opportunity that they can take advantage of.”

Each residency will be three weeks in duration, with a week in between before the next artists arrive at Surf Point. That short period of time is purposeful, said Reinharz. People with families can’t spend a lot of time away. The same is true for people working full time. And sometimes, as with mothers or fathers, both come into play. At the end of the residency, the foundation will give artists $1,000 to offset the costs associated with their time away.

“They’re taking time away from jobs or other income sources, and making a sacrifice to do something like this,” she said, adding that eventually she’d like to increase the stipend. Right now, the board and Reinharz are reviewing about 100 applications of people nominated by directors and curators of institutions in Maine, New England, New York, California and “everywhere in between.”

The applicants have “surpassed my expectations,” she said. “It’s so great. I’m sad we can’t say yes to all 100. Just in reviewing people’s statements, it’s clear they are coming from a very deep place. They’re really inspiring, and I feel lucky to be part of the process.”

Another goal of the foundation is to encourage interaction between the artists and the community of York, whether through artist talks, school visits or other means. “This is going to be a two-way street, an exchange,” she said. How that works will be determined as the residencies proceed, she said.

But mostly, she said, these residents will just be able to leave their lives behind and enjoy time on the Maine coast.

“In a really, really fast-paced world, people are attracted to the idea of residency as retreat,” she said. “This is a retreat where you can stare at the ocean for three weeks and wonder where the time has gone, but come out feeling rejuvenated.”



By Deborah McDermott, Portsmouth Herald

Information from: Portsmouth Herald,

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