ROCKPORT – The Center for Maine Contemporary Art, the state’s leading contemporary art institution since its founding in 1952, announced plans Friday for a $4 million fundraising campaign and a move seven miles south, to Rockland, in 2015.

“Rockland has emerged as the arts center for the midcoast. It has an active gallery scene, an active restaurant scene and the Farnsworth and Strand as Main Street anchors,” said Suzette McAvoy, the center’s director, citing the Farnsworth Art Museum and Strand Theatre. “For CMCA to fulfill its mission as a statewide organization, we need to be in a location that allows us to reach a broad audience.”

In addition, Marilyn Moss Rockefeller of Camden has returned as board president and will serve as chair of the fundraising campaign. Rockefeller was board president in the 1970s and ’80s and chaired a previous fundraising campaign.

In an interview Friday, she said the art center already has raised more than one-third of its $4 million goal.

“Raising money is not an easy thing to do. But because it is such a niche kind of giving, all we have to do is find the people who want to have a role in making this organization strong for the future,” Rockefeller said.

The center has an option to buy a building at 21 Winter St. in Rockland, which is now home to four art galleries, including one operated by the North Haven artist Eric Hopkins. CMCA expects to be in its new location by 2015, if it can renovate the Rockland site and meet its fundraising goals.

As envisioned, it will include room for two- and three-dimensional large-scale works, as well as digital, performance and larger installation pieces. There will be 6,000 square feet of flexible space and a 75-seat lecture space with digital projection.

There will be more room for retail and educational programming, as well.

Friday’s dual announcement confirms a long-rumored move, and signals the next stage in a turnaround for the institution.

While the three-story, wood-floor converted barn at the edge of Rockport Harbor has served the institution well, it has limited its potential. Its setting is a residential neighborhood in a small coastal village, and parking is limited to five gravel spaces out front. The new space will have parking for 300 vehicles within walking distance.

There is no room for expansion and little appetite among neighbors for the gallery’s desired growth. The gallery’s experiment with year-round operations has been costly and fallen short of attendance goals.

McAvoy said that as artists working in Maine have broadened their materials and incorporated more multimedia elements into their work, CMCA’s present building has proven limited in its exhibition opportunities.

“We are up against the physical limitations of this building,” she said. “With the diversity of contemporary art these days, in terms of large-scale installations and the use of video, there are a lot of things we can’t do. This is the right time for Maine to have a physical platform that equals the quality and diversity of the state’s contemporary art scene.”

Because of a financial crisis in fall 2009, the CMCA board laid off most of its employees and curtailed hours. It nearly ceased operations altogether, and instead underwent a thorough examination of its operation and mission.

New board members were recruited, and McAvoy was hired the following year. A former curator at the Farnsworth, she has helped lead CMCA back to its stature as Maine’s leading gallery for contemporary art, along with previous board president Judith Daniels, whose term has expired.

The potential move to Rockland should help CMCA continued resurgence. While attendance tops out at 10,000 visitors annually, McAvoy hopes it will reach 25,000 or 35,000 at the new location because of the exposure that comes with being part of a vibrant downtown arts scene.

Its annual budget is $340,000. That could increase to as much as $550,000 at the new location, McAvoy said.

The arts center has named its fundraising campaign “CMCA Now/CMCA New.”

Rockefeller said CMCA has engaged an architect with an international reputation to look at the space.

Rockefeller admitted feeling torn about the move.

“I feel such an old familiarity with this building,” she said, seated in the offices of the Rockport space. “But I have come along with this evolution. Suzette is a strong visionary, and she has such passion for this organization.”

Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:

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