March 18, 2010

Art imitates business in Freeport


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Gordon Chibroski

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Gordon Chibroski

Staff Writer

They paint, dance, make pottery, create sculptures, turn wood into beautiful bowls and lamps, take photographs and do ornamental blacksmithing.

Those are just a few of the endeavors of the estimated 200 artists who live in and around Freeport. But many of them work quietly in their studios, so few people are aware of the wealth of artistic talent that exists in a town best known for its outlet stores.

Now, a group of artists is working with the Freeport Economic Development Corp. and the Freeport Merchants Association to change that, by forming Freeport Creative Arts.

The organization's goal is to nurture and sustain the visual and performing arts in this shopping mecca, said Kathleen Meade, a painter who is helping to lead the effort. She said the plan is to gain greater visibility for the arts and create spaces in town for artists to work and sell their work.

''It is taking off,'' Meade said of the group.

Freeport Creative Arts has more than 30 dues-paying members from Freeport and neighboring Durham and Pownal, and more artists are expected to join, said Meade.

Freeport Creative Arts had its inception more than a year ago, not long after Gov. John Baldacci's call to integrate Maine's creative workforce into the overall economy. It was October 2006 when artists began having conversations about what the arts could mean to Freeport.

Julie Freund of Freeport, a painter, said on Thursday that she was one of the original members of the group. ''Freeport needs to have a visible arts community,'' she said. ''There are a couple of hundred artists living in Freeport, all quietly working out of their studios.''

The Freeport Merchants Association and the Freeport Economic Development Corp. soon joined forces with the artists, said Dick Collins, executive director of the merchants association.

He said the groups are eager to promote the arts in Freeport because they will add to the unique experience visitors seek in the town.

''Anything that is good overall for the town is good for business,'' Collins said. ''We're very excited we have so many talented people in such a small area.''

The group's activity took off this fall, when Meade got involved.

Meade, who also is project director for the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram's Bruce Roberts Toy Fund, said her son is a major reason she was drawn to Freeport Creative Arts.

Sebastian Meade, 28, is a visual artist whose main medium is sculpture, despite the fact that he has limited vision in one eye because of a stroke when he was 13. Kathleen Meade said she hopes the Freeport Creative Arts initiative will lead to greater employment in the arts, which would benefit her son and other artists.

Efforts already are being made to promote the arts in town. For example, performances are held at the 501-seat Freeport Performing Arts Center, built in the 1990s at Freeport High School, and businesses such as the Azure Cafe showcase local artists' work.

Since 1989 the town has had its own theater group, Freeport Community Players. L.L. Bean hosts an outdoor summer music series. And the Freeport Art Club puts on an annual show.

Still, artists say more must be done because Freeport remains better known for its shopping than for its art exhibits and performances.

''There's all these little pockets of art thriving,'' Meade said. ''But the arts community hasn't been thriving.''

Staff Writer Tess Nacelewicz can be contacted at 791-6367 or at:

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