Helene Farrar, from right, Marie Sugden, Alix Barron and Jane Higgins hang an exhibit Sunday at the Harlow Gallery in Hallowell. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

HALLOWELL — Helene Farrar became president of the Harlow Gallery’s board of the directors in February. One month later, the coronavirus pandemic hit.

“The Harlow was sort of in a weakened state when the pandemic hit, financially and structurally,” Farrar said, stating that the gallery often finishes each year with a deficit.

Almost a year later, the gallery at 100 Water St. is back open for events and hired a new gallery director. It addition, it has a new partnership with Spindleworks of Independence Association, a Brunswick-based nonprofit art center for adults with disabilities.

These are signs that Farrar believes show a positive trend for the gallery.

A year after former director Deb Fahy left, Farrar said, the gallery was suffering some organizational problems. Volunteering was at an all-time low and staff, she said, like former director Gretchen Marion who succeeded Fahy, were not getting the support they needed.

When the pandemic hit, a part-time worker was immediately laid off. By August, Marion and another part-time employee were also laid off, leaving no paid staff remaining. Farrar said the gallery was dealing with a deficit from the previous fiscal year, as well as the hit from the gallery’s craft shop, which is now available online, being unable operate.

“All of our income basically dried up,” she said. “I told my husband that it’s weighed on me a lot and I put in a lot of hours. The thing that bothers me was I wasn’t going to let it go down with my name on it.”

Helene Farrar at the Harlow Gallery in Hallowell on Sunday. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Farrar said she attended community meetings and, along with other members of the board of directors, was able to rebuild volunteer committees, including one to help keep the gallery’s finances straight. As expenses were low for the period between August 2020 until January, the gallery was able to end the year with a positive net income it is now using to set a course for the future.

“It’s the first time in five years that the Harlow didn’t end up in a minus number,” Farrar said.

The first important sign came with the hiring of Marie Sugden as the gallery’s director. She formerly worked for Waterville Creates!, and was a former intern and board member at Harlow Gallery.

Sugden said the return to the Harlow was her career coming full circle. She said that all of her experience in the professional realm is being tested as the Harlow’s only staff person, but she learned a lot from the gallery as an intern and a board member in the past.

“I owe the foundation of my career in the arts in Maine to the Harlow,” Sugden said.

She said it was an exciting time to be at the Harlow and there’s a clean slate for progress at the gallery after the worst impacts from the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re going to be more purposeful with our exhibitions and programming,” Sugden said. “I think something the Harlow has always done well is collaborating with local (groups) and (we will be) expanding on that.”

The Harlow is also partnering with Spindleworks to offer a gallery and workshop space for artists with intellectual disabilities.

The nonprofit had a previous presence in Hallowell. In 2011, Spindleworks opened Spin Off, a secondary location, near the former home of the Harlow Gallery further south on Water Street. It later moved to Gardiner’s downtown.

Brian Braley, Spindleworks’ senior program manager, said the Gardiner location closed in March after the pandemic hit and some of the group’s programming moved online. The Gardiner location later closed permanently in August.

Braley said the new Harlow space will help the group’s 30 artists be better integrated into the community, and aid in their professional development.

“Our hope is to have a home base for our artists to be creative and be around other artists,” he said, adding that sessions will likely be one-on-one in the new space, but could contain up to nine artists in the future.

Mali Mrozinski, who will manage the Spindleworks program at the Harlow, said the partnership will allow for crossover programming and an immersive experience for their artists in an environment with professional artists.

Mrozinski also said that it was important for those with intellectual disabilities to be integrated into the community to create “educational development” for the artists and others in the community.

The Harlow Gallery in Hallowell on Sunday. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

On Friday, the Harlow opened a new show, featuring 376 artists from 26 countries, titled “Relief Conspiracy.” The show will run through Feb. 27 and feature a panel with some of the artists, as well as a 3D modeling of the gallery which will be able to be viewed online.

Farrar also said the Harlow is looking to create a moveable gallery wall to place in front of the Water Street-facing windows to tease the gallery’s artwork and provide some eye candy for passersby.

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