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May 16, 2018

Maine Crafts Association will open site in Portland’s arts district

Photo / Renee Cordes
Photo / Renee Cordes
The Maine Crafts Association in West Gardiner is opening a second location, to be called Maine Craft Portland, at the historic Mechanics Hall in Portland’s arts district.

The Maine Crafts Association in West Gardiner is opening a second location, to be called Maine Craft Portland, at the historic Mechanics Hall in Portland's arts district.

"Locations (and) income potential have been carefully researched, considered and nurtured," Sadie Bliss, executive director of the association, told The Forecaster this week.

It will be a different type of site for MCA, which has its first location at West Gardiner Service Plaza on Interstate 295, close to where it merges with the Maine Turnpike.

The July 1 opening in Portland will coincide with one of the city's biggest summer weekends. The hall is being renovated to make room for the gallery. The association has leased the first floor, which will be updated with new paint, flooring, electricity and ADA-compliant bathroom. Bliss said MCA also plans to use the building's ballroom, library and classrooms for educational programming and special events. The Portland space will likely employ four to eight people.

According to an MCA news release, Maine Craft Portland will be a retail gallery and resource center that will promote craft in Maine through exhibitions and public programming, and directly benefit Maine craft artists through sales of their work.

Mechanic's Hall — the common name for the Maine Charitable Mechanic Association building — is across the street from Maine College of Art, blocks from the Portland Museum of Art and home to an art supply store.

The building was completed in 1859 and is on the National Historic Register. It served as Portland City Hall after the city-wide fire of 1866. It also housed and served meals to Union troops during the Civil War. An entire wall of historical, floor-to-ceiling hardwood and glass cabinets will be a feature in the MCA retail space. Historically preserved cabinets, built in the late 1800s for a jewelry retailer, will become a dominant display and aesthetic component of the MCA space. The Mechanic's Hall retail space became available in January 2018.

The MCA began a fundraising campaign in February to fund the project and signed the lease in April. Efforts are underway to renovate the space, hire staff, order inventory and prepare for the grand opening.

The project is guided by the MCA strategic plan implemented in January 2017. Desired location, income potential and landlord were researched by the MCA executive director and board of directors.

Successful capital campaign

MCA has operated the Center for Maine Craft since 2008. The center grosses close to $600,000 annually by exhibiting and selling the work of 315-plus Maine craft artists and makers.

"The experience managing this successful and impactful center positions the MCA for success in our second location," the release says.

MCA's campaign to raise $100,000 in start-up capital to open the new space is nearly complete, according to the release. On Feb. 15, the Windgate Foundation announced a matching grant of $50,000. The MCA received contributions totaling $45,000 from its network of board members, arts supporters, foundations, Portland businesses, MCA members, friends and family.

MCA has posted a submission form on its website soliciting artists living in Maine. MCA expects approximately 70% of vendors to be different from vendors at the Center for Maine Craft. Inventory will be sold on both a consignment and wholesale basis. There will not be a jury process for the first phase of ordering; "but, once we have our feet under us a jury process will commence to attract and identify new vendors," the release says.

According to its website, the Maine Charitable Mechanic Association was founded in 1815 "as a guild to teach and promote excellence among Portland's various mechanical and artistic trades, the founders recognized that together their blended efforts could make a difference in their community, and, in their words 'warm the heart and reanimate the smile.' Carpenters, glass workers, sailmakers and other craftspeople, exhibited at the associations' various fairs, held lectures, participated in parades with trade banners, and socialized at the hall."

Mechanics Hall, at 519 Congress St. was built in 1859.

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