50 states of art

Essay: Though Remote, Maine Is Fertile Ground for Contemporary Art

Artist and CMCA Associate Curator Bethany Engstrom weighs in on the art scene in one of the wildest, most remote states on the Eastern Seaboard.
March 29, 2017, 7:38pm

This article originally appeared on Creators.

As part of 50 States of Art, Creators is inviting artists to contribute first-person accounts of what it is like to live and create in their communities. Bethany Engstrom is an Associate Curator at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art (CMCA) and a practicing artist living and working in Rockland, ME.

Maine has long been a haven for artists, beckoning and inspiring with its wild nature and light unlike anywhere else. The Center for Maine Contemporary Art (CMCA) has celebrated this influential relationship between artists and the ever-evolving nature of contemporary art for almost 65 years, since it was formed in 1952 by a group of artists on the coast of Maine. This evolution has brought CMCA to its new location in Rockland, a small, vibrant city halfway up the coast. Rockland's roots are in fishing and the maritime industry—it's host to the annual world's largest Lobster Festival—but the community also is fast becoming a year-round art center with nearly two-dozen galleries and the Farnsworth Art Museum, in addition to the new CMCA.


As the Associate Curator of CMCA and a practicing artist myself, I experience the arts community from many different angles and interact with artists in multiple ways. There is a genuine, collaborative spirit between the artists that we exhibit at CMCA and the community we serve. Since we primarily work directly with artists, rather than collectors or dealers, we prioritize the relationship between the artist and the public in all that we do and we emphasize hands-on art making in our education programs. As a non-profit, CMCA can provide a platform for exhibiting work that doesn't necessarily have commercial viability in the present art market in Maine, which skews towards representational painting.

All images courtesy CMCA

At CMCA, our goal is to elevate and expand the conversation about contemporary art in our statewide community. We show only artists that have a strong connection to Maine, but this includes many that have national and international reputations and who work in all manner of media. For instance, our inaugural exhibitions in summer 2016 included a large-scale installation by artist Jonathan Borofsky, who lives in southern Maine and has shown worldwide, and multimedia work by Rollin Leonard, an emerging artist who created work in Portland, Maine and now lives in Los Angeles. The work of both artists really challenge the idea of "Maine art."

As a contemporary art center, CMCA is embraces this challenge and is always pushing the notion of what art is and the role it plays in today's culture. These are concepts I also address in my own work as a video and installation artist. Finding gallery representation or places to exhibit work of this nature in Maine can be difficult. The new CMCA in Rockland helps to fill this void and to introduce the public, both statewide and visitors from around the world, to the truly varied art being made in Maine today.

Plan your visit to the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockland, ME here.

All year, we're highlighting 50 States of Art projects around the United States. This month, we're covering Arizona, Mississippi, Nebraska, Maine, and Virginia. To learn more, click here.


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