Now the most comprehensive community arts center in Waldo County, Waterfall Arts offers resources to students, professionals, and arts enthusiasts of all ages, including art classes, exhibitions, events, performances, open media-specific studios (clay, print, and photography), free and low cost after school art programs, public art projects, long-term studio space to artists and teachers, and short-term rental facilities to artists, performers, and other organizations.
“Hello, I’m Alan Crichton, one of the founders of Waterfall Arts, and I want to tell you how we began sixteen years ago and why we are called Waterfall Arts. As sometimes happens with beginnings, a lucky combination of people, place, need and opportunity just seem to connect at the right time, and a new community energy is born.
For Waterfall Arts, this phenomenon happened in 2000, when a small group of local artists gathered to share their affection for the two converging streams, ponds and waterfalls of the Kingdom neighborhood of Montville. The Kingdom‘s history includes a million year old natural falls as well as two man-made falls at the breast of two ponds. The falls have been a source of many kinds of creative energy for ages. The steady energy of flowing water constantly calls people to contemplation and renewal, invention and industry, and, finally, the power of the arts in a community. This connection of natural and human history is at the heart of the Waterfall Arts’ story, purpose and mission: To create community in harmony with nature through the transformative power of the arts.
Our founding group shared goals for the future: to create aesthetic experiences that enhance and inspire people’s creative abilities and transform their lives. An equally important goal was to reach people who had not had such opportunities before.
In 2006, Waterfall Arts moved to Belfast’s iconic, 80-year- old Gov. Anderson School where we are now celebrating our first decade as “Waldo County’s year-round community arts center with a global appeal.”
Over sixteen years, the founders, board and staff have developed hundreds of activities for thousands of visitors and participants: arts exhibits, music and dance concerts, education in all creative media, exciting events that support and nurture artists, farmers, life-long learners and the economy; all with the intention to increase ability, expand awareness, and strengthen community.
What does the future bring? Through innovative architecture and engineering, a Capital Campaign, called Waterfall Rising, is beginning. Its purpose is to ready both our building and Waterfall Arts for our next 80 years by conserving and producing as much energy as we consume, as well as by expanding our capacity for exhibition, performance, education, new media and economic vitality. Our historic building will become a landmark environmental destination as well as a contemporary source for area arts, education and culture. This Waterfall has flowed fast and true for ten years in Belfast. Watch now as it begins to rise!” – Alan Crichton
Curating for Community
“In the early days of Waterfall Arts, we were all volunteers running summer classes in a collection of rustic buildings and tents in rural Montville, Waldo County. All exhibits were pop-up, day-of, showing teachers’ and students’ work, often together. We were all about just getting the work out there. Prints, glass beads, earthmounds, dances performed under waterfalls, drawings and paintings, clay pots, floating burning boats.
Today, we annually exhibit about 200 artists of the highest caliber, and the variety is as eclectic and interesting as ever. Now in Belfast year-round, we plan two years out for our two exhibition spaces. We show work of artists near (in the building) and far (Japanese photographer Koichiro Kurita) and of all ages, from life-long painter Harold Garde at age 90 to 4-year-old Eliot Bee Andrews and her fairy sculptures.
Our curating process is by committee, with different staff or volunteers taking the lead.
Every spring two open (non-curated) community shows bring in work from all over: in March, the Young Artists’ Gallery Takeover exhibit features hundreds of works by Waldo County artists under age 18. In April, the Open Call show has attracted as many as 200 artists from all over the US. Themes have included the all-cardboard creations, works of exactly one square foot, Earth, and printmaking (celebrating our new print studio). These shows fill both the three-floor Corridor Gallery and the 725 sq ft Clifford Gallery.
True to our roots, we still like to show work outside — on the lawn, on the building, in the town. We’ve made murals and chalk drawings, projected video onto the building from an old car parked on the lawn, and installed stone and metal sculpture. Grants help drive some projects, such as our permanent Willow Dome on the front lawn and the seasonal Living Wall, a vertical garden on the south wall designed, cared for, and installed by students from partnering schools.
Some exhibitions are developed from scratch, in-house — usually long-term projects that require external funding and sometimes a large crew. The show “David McLaughlin: The Art of Salvage” was two years in the making. David, who had recently passed away, owned an entire cannery as his live/work environment, filling every nook and cranny with metal and salvaged objects. With his heirs, we reached out to find and catalogue the assemblaged and metal sculpture of this talented and beloved local metalworker. We also received permission to disassemble a small entryway, and then precisely reassembled it in the Clifford Gallery with all its contents, including several tons of metal tools. Large photographs of the cannery, as well as another built environment, graced the gallery to augment and highlight the sculpture. One visitor commented that it was “as good as a Smithsonian exhibit.”
Artists, teachers or friends sometimes propose a show; if the committee gives a green light, we’ll collaborate and curate together. In 2015, we worked with Waging Peace/Maine to bring together two well-known painters — Rob Shetterly (“Americans Who Tell the Truth” series) and Alan Magee (allegorical war-torn figures) — for a powerful exhibition, an artist talk broadcast on community radio, and well-attended workshops with national peace activist Paul Chappell.
And then there’s luck. Sometimes when you pick up the phone and call a famous artist, like Arthur Ganson, they say yes. The exhibition of his kinetic sculpture was one of the most visited and interactive we’ve ever had.
Waterfall Arts seeks to present work that is topical and community-minded, that emphasizes the rich artistic talent here in Maine while also introducing new or national voices, that provokes discussion, raises awareness of the creative process and provides a glimpse into the mind of today’s artist in a challenging world. While art sales matter, they are not a major curatorial factor — inquiry and freshness are.
We’ve learned on the fly, had help from amazing artists both in shows and on our committee, and, without fail, are inspired with every new show.” – Martha Piscuskas
Making the Connections
“Hi, I’m Bridget Matros, Youth and Families Outreach Coordinator for Waterfall Arts. I help Waterfall share the power of art with people that might not naturally end up in the building, and I love it! When I first came to Belfast, this position didn’t exist. The “hundred-million dollar questions” I asked the first time I met Co-Director Martha Piscuskas were, “what does Waterfall do for local families? Do mostly wealthy people or professional artists come here?” I come from another small town where tourists enjoy what the local kids barely realize is there – so of course I was called to this disconnect, in what soon became my new hometown!
During my time at Boston Children’s Museum, my job was to engage urban families in artmaking. It sounds easy – it wasn’t! I think people in the arts forget how laden with psychological discomfort self-expression is for adults who were “scarred for life” during childhood. The arts also tend to be “bestowed” on communities by privileged people who speak a different language (sometimes literally!) and have a whole different set of values – so people can’t really make a connection in a real, deep way like they do with music from their home country, dancing in their living rooms, or a favorite photo. I developed many strategies for getting people comfortable with the arts on their terms – and one has been at the center of my approach here in Maine – fun! More specifically, free or cheap fun!
Kids learn through play, and it turns out adults do, too (especially with a running narration of the creative processes going on, and their practical applications)! By creating together, adults become advocates for the arts, and seek out more opportunities. We get the most newbies through our doors during “AAAH” events – All Ages Art Happenings. These are interactive community parties ranging from making a mini waterpark in the front yard to sitting down at a giant dinner table for a playdough pot luck.
Over 250 attendees at the fourth annual Glow Show
Our largest annual AAAH is The Glow Show – over 200 visitors enjoy a two-floor interactive installation of illuminated artwork, black light dancing, and glowing art activities. Fun that hinges on creativity is almost always cheap – Cardboard Boxes Are Really Fun involves collecting a couple hundred boxes from local businesses and donations of packing tape! Adults help kids erect an amazing castle-town and leave thinking about how easy it is to get creative at home. They also leave with a brochure of our classes, and some check out the gallery on their way out (a first for most, even with a town that has more art galleries than places to eat). Success! A “next step” might be for a dad to bring his son to one of our free Art Together Mornings, as a first ‘art class’ experience.
I think it’s critical that “outreach” be determined by the needs of the community, not the whims of an organization. For example, kindergarteners are “my people” – but my first mission at Waterfall was to address the fact that in our school district, 6th graders don’t have art in school. I don’t know about you, but that would’ve done me in. So our first program was a free afterschool art club (“Bridge”) for 6th graders – the school bus delivers them to Waterfall for two hours every week. Some of these kids identify as artists on day one. Others, not so much. The goal is for kids to connect to themselves, each other, and the community. We do so through games, journaling, art projects, interviews, public art, gallery visits, and events.
A “Bridge kid” interviews local artist, Abbie Read.
The very first crew not only signed up for every session, but still come to Waterfall every week, three years later; the Teen Art Studio is a drop-in program mostly serving tweens and teens who need a creative outlet, free of assignments and judgement. What I love most about working with this age group is seeing the difference a creative safe-space can make for kids; hearing from teachers and parents things that never came across in Bridge: he’s introverted, she’s on the Autism Spectrum, he’s homeless, she’s learning-disabled, he’s failing his classes – as one student said, “everyone’s got different kinds of smarts. Art is good for finding what you can do and not worry about the rest – you just get to be awesome here!”
My second year with Waterfall, we were contacted by the local elementary school – art classes had been halved due to budgeting. I was able to visit the school with artmaking sessions, making some 200 new friends! We then started an afterschool art program for fourth and fifth graders, which is still going strong. We have a generous scholarship fund so we never have to turn anyone away for any of our fee-based programs.
The Art Tent acts as a starting point for families, at Fourth Friday Art Walks in Belfast.
During the summer, Bridge kids help to staff our “Art Tent” at community events and during the monthly Art Walk downtown. Next summer we’ll equip families with a map to family-friendly galleries along with our guide to looking at art with kids, informed by local gallery owners’ enthusiasm (and trepidations) regarding young visitors.
During a 2014 town hall-type survey of interests among mid-coast artists, teachers, gallerists, and organizations, “connecting to more people” was a unanimous priority – my position was fully funded later that year by the Quimby Foundation. Now a generous collective of sponsors and supporters keep my work going and allow us to assess and address the changing needs in Waldo County. We’re so grateful for the opportunity!” – Bridget Matros
“Five years ago when I joined the Waterfall arts crew as facilities manager I was pretty confident that I had landed a comfy position at a quiet little community art center. For the first couple of months that seemed to be the case. Set up some tables here, fold up some chairs there, maybe set up the projector and tape down the wires. Mow the lawn now and then. Make sure the trash was taken out and the floors were swept…
The building itself is a grand old elementary school covering over 16,000 sq. ft. with classrooms (complete with chalkboards and coat “cubbies”) converted into over a dozen private studios and offices. Several common areas include what was once the cafeteria (and the fallout shelter!), now a 1200 sq ft performance space. Many locals come to Waterfall for an event and end up going room to room, nostalgically pointing out where they had class when it was the Anderson School.
Although almost a hundred years old, the building seemed solid and steady, just needing a bit of paint here or there, maybe a call to the oil burner tech if the heat went out – easy! The best part was that I got to spend my work day in the company of fellow artists (which by the way is still the best part for sure). But my sleepy little gig ended abruptly on a Sunday morning in February when I got a call that a pipe had burst in the third floor ladies room sometime during the night and the basement was flooded; the ceiling in the 2nd floor ladies room collapsed. The water had been shut off but the damage was extensive. And so began a repair and renovation project that lasted over a year and required all the skills I had managed to acquire – including calling in outside help. Things are not always as they seem and this old elementary school is no exception! The pipe that burst appeared solid and in good order, the galvanized surface looked much as it did the day it was installed, but inside the cast iron pipe had rusted until it was paper thin and finally burst. And the building has many such pipes.
My second year here the heating system failed. In the middle of winter – again, old metal had failed. One minute you got heat the next minute you got a problem! We managed to make it until spring when we began the involved process of installing a pump system to heat and cool the building and to trash the existing oil fired steam heat system. The new system was not operational until late in December though, and we had to heat the entire building for several weeks using a flotilla of electric space heaters. Several extra-cold nights I slept on the couch in the basement to keep an eye on things. Now in our third season with the heat pump system, I can say it is a great improvement over the old system. AC in the heat of summer sure is sweet!
Soon we will begin a major renovation project to -among other things- super insulate the building, install new windows and a solar array on the roof – all with the goal of attaining net zero energy usage. This building has had quite a life cycle!
The last couple of years have provided me with plenty of opportunity to use a lifetime of construction skills, not only in dealing with crisis situations but also in the construction of new studio spaces including a fully equipped printmaking studio and a photo darkroom.
You could say my cozy little job at Waterfall Arts ended with the flood of 2012 – with the realization that this dear old building that provides this community with a home for the arts was a needy old building that required much attention… but in turn gives back so much. And yes, I still set up tables, fold up chairs…” – Mike Fletcher
The Waterfall Family
“It was our Facility Manager’s birthday recently. Which is an awesome thing since we love to celebrate birthdays here at Waterfall Arts. Not just any ol’ office b-day party with a store-bought cake and candles, but a party with singing, stories, baskets of trinkets and special treats. One of us bakes, another brings a card and we each share a little of our own world. Lou and her husband process huge batches of the most delicious maple syrup – we each get a jar in our birthday basket. We give souvenirs from our journeys or samples of our artistic endeavors. We all eat way too much chocolate… We’re not just a team, we’re a family.
What does it take to create this dream team? Some say diversity. Some say clear goals and strategy. A fearless leader/visionary. Individual commitment. The perfect product or idea. Certainly public interest, funding, and creative thinking. Sure, all of these contribute to creating the perfect team — and the Waterfall team can check all these boxes. In addition we have an amazing group of volunteers. An active Board of Directors, successful granting records, dedicated donors, fantastic artist educators and a talented staff. And the community that convinced Waterfall Arts to move to Belfast 10 years ago continues to jump into our innovative programs and services.
This is all great, right? But there is more. As a non-profit organization, Waterfall’s team raises its entire budget every year. This funding — grants, business sponsors and private donations — determines our capabilities. It also means that staff positions are part-time and salaries are lower than other comparable jobs in the area. Volunteers are crucial to successful project management. Reliance on city, state and federal spending priorities affect our abilities to run certain programs. It can be quite a challenge to juggle bills, coordinate programs, and care for the building. And in the face of all of this, we keep going and growing because this team is also a family.
Staff and board getting creative during the annual retreat.
A total cliché but so very true here at Waterfall Arts. We surprise ourselves every time we open the doors to a new exhibition, workshop, artist talk, performance…WOW – we did it! And the best part, when we’re done with the to-do lists, the meetings, the calendar updates, the long nights painting walls and cleaning floors, writing grants and soliciting sponsorships, we get to start all over again to bring another amazing creative experience to our community.
The Waterfall family may not be united by genetics but we are related through our passions. We share a passion for the Arts, a passion to engage others in creative experiences, and a passion to make a difference in our community. And passion is what it takes to power a non-profit. To power any team to go beyond. It’s the gas in the engine.
I moved here about 5 years ago. Seeking out a community in the arts I found Waterfall Arts. I signed up to volunteer in the gallery and am still here, now President of the Board. Waterfall Arts is family to me. What we do is significant and makes a difference to the world around us and we enjoy being together doing it.
Costumes happen more than once a year around here!
“How wonderful it is that nobody needs to wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” ~Anne Frank” – Karin Otto
Accounts courtesy of meartsed and Argy Nestor, originally published in 2017 online here.