Thursday, May 23, 2013
Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer: Photographer Tonee Harbert works on a frame at the Bakery Photographic Collective at the Dana Warp Mill in Westbrook on Thursday, December 3, 2009. Harbert was preparing for the collective's annual fundraiser, Photo A Go-Go, a silent auction of photographic works to support the collective's darkroom and digital facility in the mill.
Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer: The Presumpscot River flows past the Dana Warp Mill on Thursday, December 3, 2009. The arts are becoming a prominent part of the mill.
WESTBROOK — Over the next week, Westbrook will get a chance to prove how far it has come in its effort to become a destination for the arts.
Several arts groups and creative enterprises that are based in the Dana Warp Mill will host events and open houses to call attention to their presence and encourage people to visit.
''Westbrook is getting the buzz that artists are moving out here. The mill is filled with a bunch of painters, photographers, dancers, an acting company and others. Within the walls of the mill, we are getting this whole creative economy thing going,'' said Steve Pennisi, a painter who is organizing a group art show called ''Mill-ieu.''
''This is a chance for us to take our own destiny in our hand and take advantage of the fact that we have all these creative people in the mill under one roof,'' he said.
The week's big event will be the annual Photo a Go-Go auction, hosted by the Bakery Photo Collective, which moved from downtown Portland to the mill on Bridge Street three years ago. The collective will be open daily all week, beginning Monday, to give people a chance to preview the work that will be available at the auction on Friday.
Each year, hundreds of people attend the auction, which includes a performance by the local band King Memphis.
Ongoing is Acorn Productions' short-play festival, ''Best of Fest: Volume 1.'' It began on Thursday and will continue through Dec. 12 in the theater company's 40-seat studio theater, which was opened this year.
Acorn also moved to Westbrook from Portland three years ago.
Two other events will bring people into the mill: ''Mill-ieu,'' a group show with seven painters, will be up from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday to coincide with Photo a Go-Go; and annie|catherine, a graphic design company, will have an open house beginning at 5 p.m. Friday.
Tanja Alexia Hollander, a photographer who is a member of the Bakery Photo Collective, said the co-op's move to Westbrook has been positive on two levels. The co-op has more space with better natural light, and more comfortable surroundings than it had in Portland. It also is paying less than half what it paid for rent in Portland.
With more space, it has been able to make Photo a Go-Go a bigger event.
''It seems like more and more people are coming out there and finding us, and Westbrook is working really hard to make artists feel welcome and to make space affordable. For us, it's been fabulous,'' Hollander said.
Michael Levine, Acorn Productions' producing artistic director, said his theater company is just beginning to realize the potential of the 40-seat studio theater. This week's short-play festival is the kind of event that Acorn can stage in hopes of reaching people who live in Portland, as well as the western suburbs.
There's no question that it's a challenge to get people from Portland to drive to Westbrook for a nighttime event, Levine said. But when Acorn had theater space on Congress Street in Portland, it sometimes struggled to get people to come downtown at night.
''What we have found is that perhaps our demographics are changing. We're finding now that we are reaching a lot more people from Westbrook, Gorham and other communities out that way that we were not reaching before,'' he said.
As the mill evolves into an arts destination, it's likely that more events like those scheduled this week and next will become regular happenings.
For a while, Westbrook hosted an art walk similar to Portland's First Friday Art Walk. That didn't work well, Pennisi said, because Westbrook is less pedestrian-friendly than Portland.
But the concentration of arts-related enterprises makes the mill a logical place for a multi-venue celebration.
''If we see that we can draw a lot of people here, we can stage these events twice a year or quarterly. We can make it into a real happening,'' he said.
''There is a lot of activity out here now. There are a lot of people coming and going, especially at night. It makes it feel more vibrant, more alive and less like an old building that is on the edge of nowhere.''
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:
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Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer: Members of Acorn Productions, Patricia Mew, Mike Levine and Laura Graham, left to right, get the theater set up for a play at the Dana Warp Mill in Westbrook on Thursday, December 3, 2009.