PORTLAND — The presence of Whitney Art Works is much bigger than its footprint.

Deb and Peter Whitney have operated their gallery in Portland for seven years, the last three in the heart of downtown on Congress Street. Consistently, Deb Whitney has mounted shows that give commercial opportunity to contemporary artists from Maine. She has given chances to emerging artists and hope to established artists.

Peter Whitney recently took a job in the art transportation business in London. That’s what he did locally. He moved valuable art between museums and collectors in Maine and New York, and established a successful, trusted art transportation company.

He’ll do the same thing on a grander scale in London. The city is familiar turf for the Whitneys – the couple lived there before, and Deb Whitney said moving back will feel a little like reconnecting with a former life.

Peter begins his work in earnest, although Deb will stay behind so their daughter Nell can finish her year at King Middle School. They plan to keep the gallery open through June, although the current exhibition, the small group show “Simple Complexities,” will be the last regular monthly display.

Each month after that, the gallery at 492 Congress St. will host a commercial art show and fair tied to the First Friday Art Walk. The monthly sale, held each Friday and Saturday and featuring favorite gallery and local artists, will be known as “Product: A Temporal Artist Marketplace.”

In June, the Whitneys will turn the gallery space over to Virginia Sassman-Rose, who will run it with her own vision thereafter.

The future of Whitney Art Works matters because its past matters.

Along with Aucocisco and, to a lesser degree, June Fitzpatrick, Whitney Art Works fills an important niche in the Portland art scene because it has committed without restraint to contemporary art. First in the State Theatre building at Congress Square and later at York Street and finally on Congress Street, Whitney Art Works in all its locations and incarnations has helped Portland understand what it means to be contemporary. In all its spaces, the gallery encouraged us to look at ourselves differently by showing raw modern art in hip, contemporary spaces.

In doing so, Deb and Peter Whitney have elevated the scene and become important players in their community. Their loss will be felt.

ANDREW CYR, a product of the music program of Fort Kent public schools and founder and artistic director of the Manhattan-based Metropolis Ensemble, has a Grammy Award nomination to his credit.

Metropolis Ensemble received a classical nomination for Avi Avital (soloist) and Cyr (conductor) for Avner Dorman’s Mandolin concerto, part of their first studio album, “Avner Dorman’s Concertos.” David Frost, who produced the disc, also received a Grammy nomination for his work on five albums, including the Dorman concertos.

“It’s amazing. I am pretty thrilled at everything that is happening,” Cyr said by phone from New York.
Cyr grew up in Fort Kent and received his degree from Bates College in 1996. He’s turned the Metropolis Ensemble into an important contemporary classical music enterprise in New York, and has found ways to encourage the creation of new work while recruiting new, younger fans to the genre.

With the success of the Metropolis Ensemble and now a Grammy nomination, Cyr stands at the apex of the classical music scene in New York.

“We made this recording back in 2007, and it came out in 2010. We never expected it to get this far,” he said. “We certainly dreamed about it, but we’re really surprised.

“I was not even aware when they were making the Grammy announcement. I was working on a grant, working late into the night. The composer sent me an e-mail that said, ‘Congratulations,’ and a link.”

Cyr clicked on the link, which took him to the official Grammy nomination page. He wasn’t sure what he would see when he got there, but one thing he was sure he would not: “I didn’t expect us to be there.” But there they were.

A Grammy win would be a bonanza. A nomination goes a long way toward more recognition and credibility, for sure. Already, there’s a greater awareness of the Metropolis Ensemble and its effort to champion the work of emerging composers.

“It’s just such an honor and a thrill,” Cyr said. “I guess what you could say it means is this: the academy listened and acknowledged that this is special music and a special recording.”

SUZANNE NANCE, radio host of MPBN’s “Morning Classical” program, is in Portland this week to perform with the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s “Magic of Christmas” concerts at Merrill Auditorium. A world-class soprano, Nance travels across the country and often overseas to perform.

Soon after the new year, Nance will be spending a lot more time in Portland.

She typically originates her radio show in Bangor, but will relocate to the public radio studios on Marginal Way in Portland in 2011 in an effort to host live chamber music as part of her show.

“We are going to broadcast in a way we’ve never been able to do before,” she said. “We can broadcast from anywhere, but the larger studio in Portland will enable chamber music ensembles to perform in the studio. Right now, I am in Bangor 60 percent the of the time, and the rest of it in Portland. What I will do is flip those percentages.”

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at: [email protected]

Follow him on Twitter at: twitter.com/pphbkeyes