A new space will re-establish an arts presence in downtown Westbrook, and broaden the approach by offering art classes, poetry, painting parties and music.

Continuum for Creativity, formed by artist Mary Brooking, will open its doors this Saturday, March 14, and fills a void in the Westbrook arts community that was created when the city’s only downtown art gallery, the Saccarappa Art Collective, closed its doors at the end of 2014. Aterra, a handmade gift store next door, also closed.

Brooking, a former member of the art collective, remained in her studio in the back of the building after the space closed. Since shifting her focus to teaching art and establishing classes at the Westbrook Community Center and in Scarborough, she saw an opportunity to form a new creative space.

“It kind of fell from the sky for me,” she said about establishing the space.

After Aterra closed, Brooking announced Continuum for Creativity via a Facebook page in January. Since then, she has spent the majority of her time transforming the former store into an open arts space, knocking down a wall to utilize square footage and repainting the entire interior.

Brooking said she was initially hesitant to take over the visible location, seeing the possibility for higher rent and other hurdles, but had the backing of the building landlord and former collective director Andy Curran.

“I wasn’t particularly looking to do this,” she said. “But, every time I needed something, it would sort of appear. It seemed like I would be crazy not to try this.”

The block of businesses winding from the former Saccarappa gallery (which will soon be Catbird Creamery) to the Frog & Turtle has one owner and landlord, Waves Edge, LLC of Portland. In December, Curran said, the landlord’s flexibility with rent and other expenses was the only way the collective had made it to that point. On Tuesday, Brooking said Waves Edge was also supportive of her new venture at the former Aterra spot.

The space will be used by Brooking to showcase her paintings, as well as host art classes and workshops. She currently leads four classes per week split between the Westbrook Community Center and Scarborough Adult Education, which will all be moved to Continuum. She said her students come from a wide geographical area, and that the Westbrook space is still central for them.

Brooking said that while she’ll exhibit her own work, she wants to emphasize Continuum as a place for partnering and co-working.

“I want to make sure that the arts stay rooted here in Westbrook,” she said.

Curran said Tuesday that the community was fortunate that the space remained in the arts.

“To have closed two creative outlets, and have Mary take up the slack and move right in there with another creative venture is exciting,” he said.

Curran still has two offices and a storage space behind the new space, where he still creates original greeting cards with his business, Dog Star Creations. He said when he closed Aterra, the space was “up for grabs.”

“When it became available, I think that creative idea just sort of blossomed,” he said. Curran added that Brooking’s classes have “taken off” lately, and are gaining more students.

Brooking, however, credits Curran with the push for her to try something new with the space.

On Tuesday, Brooking was hanging artwork and curtains, and moving tables into the space for its opening this weekend.

According to the brochure, Brooking will offer her painting classes for $120 for six weeks, individual painting instruction for $60 an hour, and painting parties for $25 per person. Continuum will also offer space rentals. She’ll also host regular exhibitions of her students’ work.

In recent years, Westbrook has attempted to position itself as a home for artists, with cheaper studio and gallery spaces than neighboring Portland. A robust arts community is also widely seen as a sign of a thriving downtown. Banners along Main Street read, “Artists Work Here” and “Artists Live Here.”

Curran had said the lack of daily foot traffic was a factor in the gallery’s closing. By adding the uses available for the space, Brooking may be able to rally a more diverse range of those invested in the arts.

“Retail art has an uphill battle,” she said, adding that the space will also cater to musicians and small ensemble theater groups. “I want to attract others who want to meet in this place.”

The Lowry’s Lodge poetry series will also resume its monthly meetings, utilizing the Continuum space on March 21.

Caren Michel, the chairwoman of the Westbrook Arts & Culture Committee, who was also a Saccarappa collective member, said Tuesday that she and the committee support the new space.

“I think it’s really important to continue to have an arts space on Main Street, both as an artist and as the president of Westbrook Arts & Culture,” she said. “It’s great that Mary is picking that up and running with it.”

“I think the gallery did a huge amount to open a door in Westbrook, and I want to make sure that it stays wide open,” Brooking said.

Mary Brooking, the director of the new Continuum for Creativity space in downtown Westbrook, stands in front of new decals at the storefront of 863 Main St. Opening Saturday, the space will host art classes, workshops, poetry readings, and music. Staff photo by Andrew Rice


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