WATERVILLE — Each summer, 80 artists gather at a historic 350-acre former farm in Madison. They sleep in cottages, eat in dining halls and use converted chicken coops as studios.

More than 4,000 artists have gone through the nine-week intensive study since the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture was founded in 1946.

Now the school is celebrating its 70th year of providing artists with a place to grow, with help from the Common Street Arts gallery in its new location in The Center on Main Street.

It’s the Common Street Art gallery’s first official show in its new location, where it moved July 1 from across Castonguay Square. The arts advocacy organization wants its new space to become an “arts hub” for the area, organizers said when the move was announced.

The Main Street storefront exhibit space is one of the focuses of the group’s new home and officially opens Wednesday, joining the festivities of the annual Taste of Waterville, and will include a reception at 7 p.m.

“A Place to Grow: From Agriculture to Visual Culture, a history of the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture,” combines “ephemera, furniture, and artifacts from the Red Farm homestead alongside the history of the founding ideals behind the school, with archival photographs and letters” to tell the story of how a farm in Madison became an art school, according to a Waterville Creates! news release about the exhibit.

“I think it’s a wonderful collaboration that celebrates their history while simultaneously introducing new people to the (school),” Patricia King, interim executive director for Waterville Creates! said Tuesday as volunteers and members of the organization prepared the exhibit space for the show.

‘IT CHANGED MY LIFE’

The founders of the Skowhegan School chose the farm on what is now Art School Road, off White Schoolhouse Road, in Madison for its remote location, so that artists could focus on growth rather than what was happening in the world outside.

The school still tries to keep the feeling of remoteness intact, even in the digital age, by limiting internet access to certain areas, said Sarah Workneh, the school’s co-director. What’s different about the school is how brief and intense it is.

The program lasts for just nine weeks in the summer, compared to some art schools that are two- or four-year programs. There’s no requirement that needs to satisfied at the end, nor is there any evaluation or grading of an artist’s work. It’s also an ever-changing school; it doesn’t cover only painting and sculpture.

“As art changes and expands, the school also changes and expands with it,” Workneh said. Some new media the school is exploring are video, performance art and dance.

With no final grades or satisfactions to meet, the nine weeks are time artists can devote completely to “makings things, working out things and talking through things” with a diverse group of people.

“It’s time to play around with, and it’s time to make mistakes,” she said. “You’re capable of making enormous shifts.”

Many artists come out of the nine weeks filled with “fuel for the future,” she said.

The artists don’t leave the school, or Maine, entirely after the nine weeks. Many become Mainers or vacation in the state in the summer. Some join the school’s board of governors, which directs the programming. The board of trustees directs the school’s financial components.

“So you have 70 people that are very invested in this institution,” Workneh said.

On Tuesday, Michael Berryhill, a painter who participated in 2007 and lives in New York, was at Common Street Arts painting the walls in preparation for the show.

“It’s imperative to keep the school going,” said Berryhill, who was also a dean at the school in 2014 and 2015. “It changed my life.”

ART AND THE COMMUNITY

Workneh said the school’s founders created its structure purposely, and it has helped sustain the school over the years. They also made sure to maintain a strong presence in New York City for fundraising and awareness purposes.

Maine, though, “has been our home since the beginning,” Workneh said. “The state of Maine is both an inspiration to us and now a place that thousands of artists have called home.”

The school also gets involved in its community, buying 70 percent of its food from local farmers and shopping locally as much as possible.

The Common Street Arts exhibition, curated by Workneh, Daphne Cummings and Elizabeth Mooney, focuses not only what the school has produced over the last seven decades, but also on its place in the art world and its place in central Maine.

It provides a “visual history of the school’s transition from a working farm to the school that has made an enormous impact on the visual arts, in particular, Post-War American Art,” according to the Common Street Arts website.

This is the second year Common Street Arts has partnered with the Skowhegan School on an exhibition, King, of Waterville Creates!, said Tuesday. “So this year’s presentation was a natural progression of that relationship.”

“We enjoy very much working with Skowhegan,” she said. “This year is a more traditional presentation. Last year’s exhibition had a more contemporary focus.”

She said Common Street Arts is “very interested in presenting all types of media in its new space.”

“Our vision is to serve a wide range of audiences and represent a diverse array of artists, from those working in a traditional capacity to the contemporary realm,” she said. “We also plan to diversify our educational programming to provide more options for classes — including ceramics — on a more consistent basis.”

“We want to be the intersection of creativity and community,” she said. “That’s what we’re all about.”

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

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Twitter: @madelinestamour