PORTLAND – Daniel Fuller left a perfectly fine job in Philadelphia for the chance to run a gallery in Portland.

Philly, of course, is one of the great cities of the East Coast with a world-class art scene. Fuller worked as senior program specialist for the Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative, a program of the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Great city, great job.

But he could not resist the lure of Portland.

He and his wife, Elizabeth, moved here this fall so Fuller, 33, could take over the director’s job at the Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art.

“Neither of us had been to Portland, but it was a mythical place. We had seen it in The New York Times and on the Travel Channel, places like that. Portland has a buzz about it, even if people here don’t know it,” said Fuller.

That’s a revealing piece of information. Fuller is a young guy with a great career going, and he uproots it all for the chance to run the ICA at MECA because he likes what he has seen and heard about Portland in print and on TV.

Talk about the creative economy at work.

Fuller’s story is what the creative economy is all about, isn’t it? It’s the idea of attracting talented young people to town because of quality of place.

Fuller loves what he has experienced in Portland — the food, the culture, the sports and especially the people.

“People are so nice here and very welcoming. There is a great collection of forward-thinking smart people,” he said. “I’m coming from a really good job that I left because I was interested in the energy here. There’s a chance to really do something here.”

As ICA director, Fuller hopes to continue the tradition begun many years ago by Jennifer Gross, who left to become curator at Yale. Mark Bessire, now director of the Portland Museum of Art, followed. Toby Kamps came after Bessire, and has become curator at Menil Collection in Texas.

Linda Lambertson and Lauren Fensterstock served as interim directors for several years after Kamps departed.

With leadership changes in the president’s office, the mission of the ICA at MECA has felt undefined, at least publicly.

But Fuller is clear in his goals. He wants to create a platform to advocate for wide-ranging, multi-disciplinary projects via exhibitions, talks, screenings and events. He wants to engage MECA students and the Greater Portland community through collaborations that create an active discussion about contemporary art.

And he intends for the ICA to serve a critical role in its commitment to “provocative work” by living artists from Maine and around the globe.

Fuller senses a lot of support from MECA and wider communities.

“People seem to actually want the ICA to do well, even if contemporary art isn’t their thing,” he said. “Even if they like the masters at the PMA, they want the ICA to do well.”

Fuller grew up in New York state. He earned a bachelor’s degree in painting from Towson University and a master’s in museum studies from Syracuse.

He’s a big sports fan. He grew up cheering for the New York Yankees, “but I just can’t do it anymore. It’s just not fair.” Instead, he cheers for the Baltimore Orioles. Fuller is also a hockey fan, and is pumped that the Portland Pirates are the minor league affiliate of the Buffalo Sabres. He’s already had conversations with Pirates CEO Brian Petrovek about collaborating on a multi-media art project between periods at Pirates games.

He’s open to anything, and believes there’s room for contemporary art in all facets of society.

“I want to show top-notch contemporary work that shows trends happening in the world,” he said. “I want to lure major figures to Maine and give them space to do something they could not do at a small gallery in New York. And I want to help artists working in Maine receive the kind of exposure they deserve.” 

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

[email protected]