By Henry Schulz
Special to the Islander
BAR HARBOR — The weathered, gray structures are aesthetically simple, but they play an integral role in preserving and contributing to Mount Desert Island’s diverse and complex arts scene.
ArtWaves, a nonprofit that will be fully operational in six months, has moved from its old location on Main Street to its new home in Town Hill. ArtWaves began in a studio in the Bar Harbor Municipal Building offering classes only in figure drawing. “This is the third expansion in two years for ArtWaves,” said Jane Weathersby, a managing partner of the group.
Founded by local artist Liz Cutler, the nonprofit organization aims to be a creative hub where both amateur and experienced artists can practice their craft. “We have open studio times so you can practice, which is pretty important,” Cutler said.
MDI’s artistic traditions are a strong motivator for ArtWaves in its efforts to cultivate and strengthen the art scene. “The history of this island is based off artists – they are the ones who spread the word about what a fantastic place this was in the 1840s,” Weathersby said.
Her husband, Paul Weathersby, another partner of ArtWaves, said, “It is about the creation and experience of art. We are not an art gallery. We are a place where people can take classes, workshops and interact.”
The Town Hill property is comprised of a farmhouse with two apartments, a barn that has two workspaces for painting, and a dance studio. “One of the studios in the barn is used for figure drawing with a live model, which is twice a week,” Cutler said. ArtWaves is looking to add a workshop area to the studios in the barn that will be for stained glass, figure sculpting and printmaking.
Twenty years ago, the land was owned by Gordon Robb and Joanne Torti-Robb. “Joanne taught dance and originally had the dance studio in the upper part of the barn. They outgrew the space, so she built a fabulous dance studio. Robb and Joanne then sold it to Marion ‘Kippy’ Stroud, a patron of the arts and founder of the Acadia Summer Arts Program (ASAP),” said Jane Weathersby.
“Two years ago, Kippy passed away, and the estate was put on the market. Dentist Chris Maller, who owns the adjoining dentist office [in Town Hill], purchased it and worked with ArtWaves and leased it to us. We plan to purchase it in the future,” Paul Weathersby said. “Maller is in support for a community arts center, and we are very grateful.”
The dance studio is a creative staple for both ArtWaves and the Bar Harbor community. The milky white walls absorb the summer sunlight as the smell of freshly refinished wood lingers in the air.
Full-length mirrors line the front wall and reflect the ballet barres that children use to support themselves while learning. “So many young children, mostly girls, took dance in this studio,” Paul Weathersby said.
The experiences in the dance studio still resonate with MDI residents who took lessons there. “Children who are adults now remember dancing here, and their parents remember fondly waiting for the dance class, because there’s a little room where you can watch your kids dance,” Cutler said.
Now, the number of types of dance practiced in the studio has grown. “There is dance of many sorts from dance training to social dancing to fitness classes and yoga. Our first event had over 60 people and had four classes of tango, salsa, west coast swing, and nightclub two step, followed by three hours of social dancing,” Paul Weathersby added.
The bustling energy of MDI in the summer is transitory, and ArtWaves is looking to establish a center that sustains a vibrant cultural life throughout the year. “There is a long, dark, cold winter here, and having a center of activity that is healthy, happy, educational and inclusive is really what we are all about,” Jane Weathersby said. “Art is at the heart of that, but it is really about bringing people together and using art as a vehicle with great programming and teachers.”