March 17, 2013

Doing Farmington proud

The Emery, the performance and gallery space on the UMF campus, has been a game changer for western Maine.

By Bob Keyes
Staff Writer

FARMINGTON — It took more than a decade to plan and build the Emery Community Arts Center on the campus of the University of Maine-Farmington.

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Emery Center director Jayne Decker in the visual arts gallery known as the Flex Space, which is currently showing works by Ellen Roberts and Karen Adrienne.

Photos by John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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The Performance Space.

Additional Photos Below


It took about a year for the center to transform the arts scene in western Maine.

The Emery, which opened in fall 2011, has become a magnet for cultural events in the region. It draws visual artists to its gallery space with its installation-friendly high ceiling and whitewashed walls. Musicians, writers and performers of all ilk come for its ultra-modern and forever-malleable performing arts space.

And seekers of peace and solitude are attracted by its lanky, light-splashed walkways that link the campus and community, inviting people in and encouraging them to sit and stay awhile.

"When we designed this space, we had to say 'no' to a lot," said Jayne Decker, the arts center director. "This vision mattered. If we tried to be everything, we wouldn't be anything."

Instead, because of bold decisions made during the design process, the center stands as a unique building in all of Maine: A true space for all the arts, where theater, music and dance mix easily and naturally with the visual arts. The art gallery might host music, and the performance hall can double as exhibition space for large-scale installations.

The boundaries between the arts blur here, bringing a free flow of ideas not only to the final outcome, but to the creative process itself, said Steven Pane, a UMF music professor who participated in the design process for the building.

"It did exactly what we hoped. It has brought together a lot of people who night not normally work together because there would not be space that encouraged it," he said.

In that sense, the building itself has become an incubator for the arts. It has the added bonus of having the look and feel of a modern building while being wedged among some of the oldest and most revered buildings on campus.

But the cherry on top, says university president Kathryn A. Foster, is that the Emery truly was built as much for the campus as the community as a whole. The university has always been a strong partner with the community, she said, but the Emery extends that relationship in formal, tangible ways.

"It is a community arts center that sits on our campus," said Foster, who inherited the building when she arrived as president last summer.



Foster calls the Emery a "courageous building" because of its design and mission. The university did the unthinkable in this day and age. To paraphrase Joni Mitchell, it paved a parking lot to put up paradise.

The Emery site used to be a parking lot for campus and community events. The building is shoe-horned between the oldest building on campus -- the historic Merrill Hall, built around the time of the Civil War -- and Farmington's public library. It's named after community art boosters Ted Emery and his late wife, Marguerite, and funded with an anonymous $5 million gift.

Emery's exterior shell is made mostly from natural wood siding, which will turn with the weather. It has a glass entryway and a large glass wall on the opposite side, creating a tunnel of light.

One exterior wall doesn't exist at all. The Emery was built to incorporate the existing and long-beloved Alumni Theater. When one enters Emery, the brick exterior of Alumni is among the first architectural features that presents itself.

With white cedar walls on the interior doubling as exhibition surfaces, the building boasts a variety of visually alluring architectural elements, including wood, brick and glass. It is a perfect example of blending the old with the new, without disrupting the old or compromising the new, Decker said.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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UMF’s oldest building, Merrill Hall, stands next to the Emery.

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UMF student Richard Russell, an actor in an upcoming play, attaches colored gels to stage lights with assistance from stage crew member Leigh Welch (on ladder) and theater designer Dan Spilecki.

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The Emery’s exterior shell is made mostly from natural wood siding that will turn with the weather.

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