The Center for Maine Contemporary Art, which was forced to lay off nearly all its staff because of financial difficulties last fall, has hired a new director.

The center’s board today announced the appointment of Suzette McAvoy of Belfast as its new director. She replaces Mary Ann Schierholt, who joined the Rockport art center last summer. In a press release, CMCA said Schierholt resigned her position to return to California to spend time with her son and his family.

In addition running CMCA as an administrator, McAvoy also will have artistic oversight at the center. She brings credibility and name recognition to the position. McAvoy is former chief curator at the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland and has had more than 20 years of experience in the art field as curator, administrator, consultant, and teacher.

CMCA had hired McAvoy as a consultant to guide the organization in its restructuring. She will continue in her role as consultant over the next four months and will begin her position as director full time in September, according to the CMCA release.

The Rockport art center has long been a leading presenter of contemporary art in Maine. It began in 1952, and has evolved over the years into a key arts institution in the state. Last fall, citing financial difficulties that resulted from the downturn in the economy, the center laid off four full-time staffers and announced it would close for the winter. Its board vowed to use the downtime to re-evaluate its mission and role.

“The Board of CMCA is honored to have Suzette McAvoy in an important leadership position here,” board Chair Judith Daniels said in a statement. “We know Suzette will bring stimulating exhibitions and innovative programming to CMCA and to the arts community in Maine. CMCA, 58 years old and newly restructured and energized, is primed to move forward. Suzette is the best person to take us there.”

McAvoy said she expects better times for CMCA going forward, and hopes to work “collaboratively with artists, collectors, and supporters, as well as other arts organizations throughout the state, in fulfilling CMCA’s mission of furthering an appreciation for contemporary art.”

As part of its restructuring, CMCA also hired Paula Blanchard of Camden as operations manager. Blanchard most recently served as manager of marketing and consumer sales at Down East Books in Rockport.

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