Maine’s rich artistic heritage lures tourists and exports idyllic images of the state to the rest of the world. Behind the scenes, an army of artists, philanthropists and art educators work quietly to keep our cultural institutions vibrant and growing.

On Tuesday night, the Maine College of Art held its 16th annual Art Honors party and recognized two of these vital members of the state’s art scene.

State Historian and noted expert on Maine architecture Earle G. Shettleworth Jr. was awarded an honorary doctorate and the Art Honor for leadership in community service in the arts and education.

The award was presented by MECA President Don Tuski and trustee Andres Verzosa, who co-chaired this year’s Art Honors committee.

“I sincerely want to thank the Maine College of Art for this singular honor,” Shettleworth told the assembled crowd.

Philanthropist and hedge fund manager S. Donald Sussman was awarded an honorary doctorate and the Art Honor for leadership in art philanthropy. Sussman is married to U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, and is the majority share owner of MaineToday Media, which owns the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta, the Morning Sentinel in Waterville and other media outlets in Maine.

The award was presented by Tuski and trustee and committee co-chair Margaret O’Keefe.

“I love to be a supporter of the college,” Sussman told the crowd. “Thank you very much.”

They each shared stories about how much art classes in college influenced their lives.

“Both Donald Sussman and Earle Shettleworth have been big supporters of the arts and it’s nice to honor that,” artist Dudley Zopp told me.

Past Art Honor recipient and well-known curator Bruce Brown told me the awards have “become a tradition at the college and a distinguished one. And the recipients tonight are absolutely worthy.”

Other past honorees at the party included Roxanne Quimby, Roger Gilmore, Al and Judy Glickman and Alice Spencer. The party attracted 350 guests and raised $45,000 in support of the college.

Festivities were spread over three floors of the Portland college and included a sushi bar, molecular gastronomy cocktails, live music and artists sketching portraits of guests.

For the first time, the event took place before graduation (which happened on Saturday) and didn’t include a sit-down dinner. Party-goers were able to view the senior thesis work and meet the 65 BFA graduates. The move to include the students in the party garnered much praise.

“I’m glad they included the graduating seniors,” artist Tanja Hollander told me.

“I think the party this year is better,” gallery owner June Fitzpatrick told me. “This is much freer (than being seated at tables) and there’s a lot more mingling. And the fact we can see all the student work is a real plus.”

Sculptor Edward Friedman agreed, telling me, “I think the important way for MECA to make a community connection is through the students and their art. If people are supporting MECA it is good for them to see the work, meet the students and see the studios.”

The party offered a glimpse of the vibrant art school community.

“MECA is viewed as this wonderful incubator,” art writer Carl Little told me. “This is where everything is happening. It’s a very alive place.”

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

akamila@pressherald.com

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila