WATERVILLE — Waterville Creates! may be looking for a new executive director, but that hasn’t slowed plans that include a summer concert series, or dampened excitement about its move across Castonguay Square to sparkling new quarters that are expected to become an arts center for the city.

As Larry Sterrs, chairman of the arts organization’s board of directors, and Nathan Towne, its marketing director, gave a tour of the space in The Center that will become the organization’s new home, there was excitement about the future.

“Our vision for this location is that it is the arts hub of Waterville,” Sterrs said. “We want it to be the place where, if we’re not doing it, we want to be doing it.”

Plans for the immediate future call for free concerts for all age groups from late July to late August at Castonguay Square.

A recent Waterville Creates! survey of more than 400 people identified outdoor arts and cultural events as a priority for the city, so the organization is working with its partners, including the Waterville Opera House, to bring the free concert series.

“I think it’s just a great, great addition for what’s going on here this summer,” said Sterrs.

Advertisement

Executive Director Nate Rudy announced abruptly last week that he was leaving to become Hallowell city manager. Rudy had been at the post since December 2014, when the organization formed out of the Waterville Regional Arts and Community Center.

Based at The Center at 93 Main St. downtown next to Castonguay Square, Waterville Creates! promotes arts and culture in the city and focuses specifically on providing marketing, advertising and program support for its five core partners, including the Opera House, Maine Film Center, Waterville Main Street, Waterville Public Library and Colby College Museum of Art. It is overseen by a 14-member board of directors and owns the The Center and Common Street Arts on Common Street.

Sterrs said Thursday that the organization will enter a process of identifying the specific skills and experience it wants to see in an executive director — someone with leadership and technical skills who would work well with its art partners.

“I’ve suggested to the board and staff that we take a slow and deliberative process right now,” he said.

Because the organization’s staff, which includes program director KiKA Nigals and executive assistant Marie Sugden, is so competent, the organization has the luxury of not having to rush to fill the post, Sterrs said.

“We are very fortunate that we are in that position, and that’s not something that we take lightly,” he said.

Advertisement

The organization’s goal is to increase not only the availability and accessibility of the arts, but also the viability, according to Sterrs.

COMMUNITY INPUT

Sterrs and Towne led a tour of The Center on Thursday, where the former REM forum room is about to become an art gallery, with a new coat of white paint and restored wood floor.

Just to the west of that room is a storefront space overlooking Main Street that is to become a studio where children will receive art instruction and work on projects, and passersby on the sidewalk will be able to watch them work. That space also has a fresh coat of white paint.

Waterville Creates! has been holding public meetings to discuss findings its recent public survey, which was aimed at identifying what people want in the city for arts and cultural events and what they see as strengths, challenges and barriers. Most survey respondents said arts and culture should contribute to the positive image of the community and help attract tourism, business and new residents to the city.

Reinholt Consulting LLC, which specializes in assessment and planning for creative organizations and communities, is helping Waterville Creates! with the survey findings and data, as well as the public meetings. The “cultural blueprint study” seeks to discover new ways to increase the reach, value and relevance of arts and cultural resources in the city, according to Towne. It is funded, in part, by the Maine Arts Commission.

Advertisement

“We truly need the community’s input because we want to make sure what we’re doing meets the community’s needs,” Towne said.

The efforts of Waterville Creates! dovetail nicely with what the city and Colby College are doing to try to revitalize the city, Towne said.

“The synergy is excellent,” he said.

Mayor Nick Isgro agrees, and praises organizations such as Waterville Creates! that work toward making Waterville a destination for arts and culture. He said the city appreciates the organization’s efforts in doing the survey and developing the concert series, which will be an asset to the city.

“I think when you look at what they’re doing in conjunction with what everybody else is doing in downtown, it lends credibility to the idea that the stars have really aligned around Waterville right now,” Isgro said.

City Manager Michael Roy said Thursday that Waterville Creates! plays a critical role in the city.

Advertisement

“Waterville has been trying to brand itself as a cultural and art center for central Maine, so the work of Waterville Creates! is very, very important in helping to establish that brand for the city,” Roy said. “So, we see it as a very essential organization in helping the city to continue its renaissance.”

SUMMER PLANS

The Summer Concert Series will be held every two weeks, from 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. on a day of the week to be announced. Each concert will include three sets of music, with the first set geared toward children. The series will use local performers, as well as those from other areas, such as Portland.

Also new this year is that the opening celebration for the annual Maine International Film Festival in July will be held in Castonguay Square, near where the new entrance to Waterville Creates! will be. The organization will help film festival organizers in any way it can, Sterrs said.

On July 14, the Pecha Kucha will be held at the American Legion Hall on College Avenue and will focus on film-related topics as it is being held as part of MIFF, he said.

While Waterville Creates! receives grants and donations, it also must work to help sustain itself.

Advertisement

It will lease studio space in The Center to artists and will have a ceramics studio set up in the former kitchen space used by REM, a volunteer nonprofit agency, which has moved to the building’s basement level.

“In order to be viable, we have to have multiple streams of revenue,” Sterrs said.

The Harold Alfond Foundation in December announced an award of $1.5 million to the organization and its partner organizations. Earlier that year, the foundation gave the organization $100,000, and in 2014 the foundation gave $200,000.

“We get a lot more from them than just grant money,” Sterrs said. “They give us advice … They’re really great partners for us. We couldn’t do it without them.”

Waterville Creates!’ all-volunteer Board of Directors is made up of members from its partner organizations who are dedicated and interactive, according to Sterrs. They include people involved in the arts, as well as lawyers, hospital staff and business people.

“What a great diversity, and what conversation comes to the table,” Sterrs said.

Advertisement

Sterrs is also chairman of the Board for UniTek and is chairman and chief executive officer for the Unity Foundation.

He said the plan is to have construction and changes at The Center complete before the film festival opens in July, and host an opening event for the public to attend.

The goal is to make the space welcoming and vibrant, and a place that draws people to downtown as they shop, eat in restaurants, attend Opera House shows and take part in other activities, according to Sterrs.

Common Street Arts is also moving to The Center this month from its space on Common Street.

Towne said artists interested in space at The Center have expressed interest in professional development opportunities to help them market their works and that is something Waterville Creates! is working on. He said studies have shown that if the public has the chance to watch artists creating art, they are 80 percent more likely to buy it.

“That’s one of the reasons KiKA is so excited about having studio space available and visible to the public,” he said.

Advertisement

The nice thing, according to Sterrs, is that Waterville Creates! can mold its activities and features to what the public says it wants and needs.

“There’s no playbook here — we’re creating it as we’re going along,” he said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

acalder@centralmaine.com

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

Comments are no longer available on this story