WATERVILLE — Walking through downtown, Nate Rudy lights up in front of the Common Street Arts building and the Waterville Opera House.
“This is such a great building. I love that building. We are literally at the center of so much activity here,” said Rudy, standing in the center of Castonguay Square with a smile on his face. On Monday, Rudy will take over as the first executive director of Waterville Creates!, which has replaced the Waterville Regional Arts and Community Center as the lead advocate for promoting arts and culture in the city.
He couldn’t be more excited.
“I think there’s a tremendous opportunity here for arts and aesthetics-based community development,” said Rudy, 39. “Everyone has been really welcoming, and I’m excited to get going.”
Rudy comes to Waterville from his role as director of economic and community development in Gardiner. Member organizations of Waterville Creates! include arts and community groups such as Waterville Main Street, the Maine Film Center and the Colby Museum of Art. Leaders of the organization say the nonprofit group has evolved slowly over the last year and a half. The Waterville Public Library, the opera house and Common Street Arts are also part of the collaboration. It was formed under the Waterville Regional Arts and Community Center (WRACC), a nonprofit group that owns The Center building on Main Street. The re-branding of the group signals a closer working relationship among arts groups in Waterville.
“Before now, there was no coordinated effort among arts organizations to market what we have here in Waterville,” Mayor Karen Heck said. “The coordination and the support to really maintain that effort is what’s different.”
The concept is something WRACC’s board of directors and local arts and community groups have been working on over the last two years. The transition also will create three to five jobs at Waterville Creates!, whereas WRACC was run only by volunteers, said Larry Sterrs, the incoming chairman of the board of Waterville Creates! and a former board member for WRACC.
“What was WRACC is now Waterville Creates!, and Waterville Creates! is going to be much bigger, much more diverse and doing much more work in the community they’re around,” Sterrs said. He said there will be more of an emphasis on making Waterville an arts destination. In the past, WRACC has hosted and sponsored community events and helped with fundraising efforts in the city.
Rudy will be the organization’s first executive director, although Lori Roming, research and program officer at the Unity Foundation, a community improvement group in Unity, has acted as an interim director in the early stages of Waterville Creates!
“It’s really been a long process of collaborative thinking about how we can best work together, and what came out of that process was Waterville Creates!,” said Shannon Haines, executive director of the Maine Film Center, which is part of Waterville Creates!. “We’re still in the process of creating a work plan and goals.”
Haines and other members of Waterville Creates! said the new group is focused on strengthening partnerships between arts and cultural institutions in Waterville. That includes sharing marketing and advertising strategies and organizing events jointly.
“We don’t see ourselves as competitors. When I visit another town, for example, I like to be able to get a cup of coffee, then go have a nice art experience, have a good meal and maybe see a movie. We’re stronger that way together than we are individually, and I think we’re all committed to working together not to strengthen our own institutions, but to strengthen the community we’re all a part of,” said Patricia King, associate director at the Colby College Museum of Art.
Rudy is originally from Virginia and graduated from Virginia Tech. He moved to Waterville in 2004 with his wife, Adrian Belvins, a poet and professor of English at Colby College. He has his own creative side, having apprenticed for a year under a violin maker at Somerset Violins in Waterville. Rudy worked in the development office at the former Good Will-Hinckley Home for Boys & Girls before it closed in 2009, and he decided to return to school to get a master’s degree in business. He graduated from Thomas College in 2010.
He said Waterville has remained close to his heart, though he now lives with his family in Winthrop, where they moved to be closer to his job in Gardiner. He sees many of the same values in Waterville that were present in Gardiner — family friendliness, creativity and entrepreneurship. He also notices lots of changes since leaving Waterville just three years ago. Things that were just opening at the time he left, such as Common Street Arts and Selah Tea, a downtown tea shop and cafe, are now blossoming. A $15 million expansion at the Colby College Museum of Art is complete and the new museum is open. And in December 2012, the Maine Film Center purchased Railroad Square Cinema, making the theater a permanent home for the annual Maine International Film Festival.
“It’s hard to measure at this point, but we’re starting to hear from people around the state that Waterville is becoming more of an arts and cultural destination, and that’s really what we’re hoping for,” Haines said. “Over time, we hope to be able to measure the impact of our collective work through things like increased attendance at the Maine International Film Festival.”
At the museum, King said attendance already has increased since the 2012 expansion took place and that the museum is eager to share its new audience with the rest of Waterville. “It just makes for a richer and more robust experience. If someone is going to travel from Boston to come to Colby, it would be great to go downtown and have a great delicious meal or just have options for their experience.”
City officials are looking forward to partnering with Waterville Creates! City Manager Mike Roy said the city has rented space in The Center from WRACC and has collaborated with the group on arts projects in the past. The city will have representation on the Waterville Creates board and will work on marketing and business attraction, he said.
“I think with the hiring of Nate, we’re really poised to take off and lead this initiative in a way we hadn’t been before,” King said. “I think he has a commitment to Waterville, and he’s a creative and inclusive thinker. He’s a creative thinker, which is what this initiative is going to be about.”
Rachel Ohm — 612-2368