FARMINGTON — A prominent arts group is closing its Main Street gallery and learning center later this month, highlighting the financial problems and the strain on the nonprofit’s volunteers that sustaining a physical location imposes.

Upcountry Artists will be closing the Upcountry Artist Gallery and Learning Center at 161 Main St. on April 30, after three years of operating in downtown Farmington.

With limited financial resources to keep the gallery going and a small pool of Upcountry Artists members who were available to sit at the gallery on the days it was open, organization members felt they weren’t able to run the gallery the way they had envisioned originally.

“It felt like we needed to stop draining our resources, and reassess,” Upcountry Artists Vice President Mary Beth Morrison said.

Upcountry Artists has been an arts organization since 1985, with the mission of promoting the arts and artists in Franklin County. Every year the organization awards two scholarships to graduating seniors at area schools. In addition, the organization, which has about 75 members, hosts art events in the area, including an art show at the Sugarloaf ski resort in the fall.

Upcountry Artists will continue to function in that capacity, according to Morrison.

“The board decided that in order to fulfill its mission of promoting artists and the arts in the community, we will concentrate on the annual Sugarloaf show, hosting workshops and classes for artists, creating an open juried art show, and continuing to award scholarships,” the group says in a message on its website.

Before the downtown gallery opened three years ago, Morrison said, Upcountry Artists was “nothing but a P.O. box” in terms of its physical presence in the community.

“We felt that we wanted to have more of a presence and a facility, where we could have meeting workshops and events — something that was a little more findable than just being an idea,” Morrison said.

In the time since the gallery opened, the space has served several purposes for the organization and also opened its doors for the public to be involved in the arts. The gallery was open year-round Thursday through Sunday, for members to show and sell their artwork. The space also hosted special shows, such as the Youth Art Month exhibit that opened last month and will run until the gallery closes April 30.

The organization also has hosted art classes as well as after-school programs at the gallery.

Despite good intentions and ideas, Morrison said, the gallery just wasn’t gaining enough momentum to keep going.

The gallery has been sustained by annual member dues, fundraising efforts and grants when the organization could get them; but overall, they found that not enough artwork was being sold to justify keeping the space open.

“We didn’t want to close it; we loved that place,” Morrison said. “But we found that our sales did not meet the bills.”

Morrison noted that the people who came into the gallery often were coming in just to look at the artwork instead of buy pieces.

“I frankly felt like much of the community didn’t even know we were there. It feels like it’s an enormous task to announce and keep your name out there that you are a commercial venue in town,” Morrison said.

In order to operate the gallery as the organization envisioned, a lot more attention and work was needed than what members of the group could manage, she said. Members of the group are located all around central and western Maine, and the mission of sustaining the gallery fell on a localized group that feasibly could commit time to sitting at the gallery.

“The pool of artists were much more localized than we anticipated, and it just became too much of a commitment,” Morrison said.

Upcountry Artists is one of four art galleries in downtown Farmington, all of which participated in First Friday Artwalk. The event began last spring, and it held its first art walk of 2016 on April 1.

The art walks are organized by Malcolm Porter, who owns Enchanted Herbs and Botanicals, across the street from Upcountry Artists, on Main Street.

“Certainly we will feel a loss with Upcountry Artists no longer being there. It was 25 percent of our physical galleries,” Porter said.

The art walks feature several forms of art, including the fine arts, music and literature. And while the galleries do take part in the event, Porter said that several retail stores in downtown also open their doors on those evenings to display local artists’ work.

Porter said he hopes to maintain an open dialogue with Upcountry Artists so the work of their artists can continue to be displayed during the art walks.

“We’re really trying to provide a place for artists to be able to display their work. So if individual members of Upcountry want to display, that would certainly be welcomed,” Porter said.

Through the end of the month, the gallery will be continuing to display its Youth Art Expo. This month the gallery also is running a 15 percent-off sale on artwork still in the gallery. On April 30, the gallery will hold an indoor yard sale on anything left in the gallery.

Morrison said the gallery’s closing doesn’t mean the group is ruling out opening another gallery later. But if it does decide to open a gallery again, it would be with a more formalized plan of operation, she said.

“The desire is to come back again and have more artists and be better connected with art groups and businesses,” Morrison said.

Lauren Abbate — 861-9252

[email protected]

Twitter: @Lauren_M_Abbate

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