The Art is Community show will open Nov. 15 in the Old White Church. Jane Vaughan / Lakes Region Weekly

BUXTON — Saco River Theatre this month will host its 10th annual “Art is Community” show, the success of which is the result of “a really, really nice support system here in the community,” according to artistic director Jennifer Porter.

Porter and her husband, Dana Packard, purchased the theater at 29 Salmon Falls Road in 1989 and renovated it. They have been running a theater company called The Originals out of the space for decades.

“We were just so excited to think that this is a place we could have as a home base for our theater company,” Porter said. 

The Originals put on three shows a year, and Porter said while Saco River Theatre is still mainly focused on theatrical performances, events such as concerts, art exhibits and lectures have been held in the adjacent Old White Church at 15 Salmon Falls Road, which Porter and Packard also own.

The Art is Community show from Nov. 15 through Dec. 7 aims to “showcase visual artists and to bring visual arts to the community,” said Susan Haya Orfant, director of the Saco River Art League, which continues to hang the works chosen for the show.  

Research has shown that there are a variety of benefits to having art in a community, from increased community participation, innovation and economy building to greater tourism and reduced stress and depression among residents.

This year’s show, Orfant said, features artists from across Southern Maine and includes paintings, photography and some 3D works. All works are for sale, with a percentage of the proceeds benefiting the theater.

The free event “does seem to be appreciated by members of the community,” Orfant said. “We get a lot of older folks. They’re always grateful that we’ve brought it here.”

Attendees enjoy the 2013 opening reception for the Art is Community show. Photo courtesy of Susan Haya Orfant

Hollis resident Carla Turner has attended many events at the Saco River Theatre and said the group is “a great addition to our community.”

She has attended the Art is Community show in the past and said “it’s always stunning the number of artists that are in the community and the high-quality work that they produce. It’s very impressive.” 

The theater’s mission statement is, “Our mission is art. Our mission is culture. Our mission is you.”

Porter feels that art, particularly theater, should be “open to everyone. It shouldn’t be this exclusive thing.” As a result, she tries to keep ticket prices low and offers pay-what-you-can nights for all performances.

After nearly 30 years of running the theater, she is thankful for the “really, really nice support system here in the community. We’ve been really lucky.”

“Certainly (Saco River Theatre is) a really valuable asset to Buxton and the surrounding community,” Orfant said. “It makes Bar Mills the cultural center of the universe.”

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