A building housing new artist studios on Cassidy Point in Portland is nearly complete. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

When Deborah Wing-Sproul moved from her home in the Hudson Valley to Maine 15 years ago, she left behind a large studio building that she built on her New York property. “And I was fine with that. I was fine moving to Maine without a studio,” said the multidisciplinary Portland artist, whose practice involves mostly photography, video and performance.

In Maine, she adapted her art to her environment, creating more site-specific work out in the world and making the most of a small studio that she has rented at the Space building in downtown Portland. After going without for many years, Wing-Sproul will soon have another large studio to work in, as she joins a growing community of artists in the new studio complex at 121 Cassidy Point in an industrial section of Portland’s western waterfront off West Commercial Street.

The newly built four-story Cassidy Point makerspace opens this week, envisioned as a way to help ease the squeeze on affordable studios for artists. It’s a project of developer Cyrus Hagge, owner of Property Management Inc. Hagge purchased the property in 2018, razed an existing building that housed a former auto repair service and partnered with architect Tracie Reed of Dextrous Creative and Wright-Ryan Construction Inc. to create open, light-filled work space to satisfy a range of artists, including those making industrial-scale sculptures and others working at much smaller scale. The 20 studios range in size from 430 square feet to almost 1,200 square feet.

As of last week, all but three were leased, according to the Cassidy Point website. The building’s metal shell reflects the bare and industrial feel of the studios inside with their open ceilings, painted plywood floors and slop sinks. The walls are soundproofed, so a sculptor using heavy machinery on the lower level won’t interfere with a writer working quietly above, Hagge said. Annual rents average around $13 per square foot.

Hagge bought the original building “to store equipment and toys,” but his longtime interest in the arts led to other ideas. Specifically, a conversation with the sculptor Aaron T Stephan about the need for industrial-scale work space in Portland resulted in this project. “Aaron put the bug in my ear, and away it went,” Hagge said.

Stephan, a sculptor who makes large-scale public art, is among the first wave of artists committing to Cassidy Point. Others are the designer Drew Hodges, photographer Jocelyn Lee and the painter James Mullen. Lauren Fensterstock, a sculptor who will be showing this fall at the Renwick Galleries of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, also moved her studio to Cassidy Point.

Wing-Sproul is paying $800 a month for her 600-square-foot studio on the first floor. She is keeping her smaller studio in the Space building downtown for her photography practice, and sees the larger space at Cassidy Point as a place to conceive and execute larger work and perhaps host site-specific installations. “It’s hard to make certain projects in a small studio, and large studios are just very difficult to come by. I had somewhat given up on that as an option in Portland,” she said.

The additional monthly rent was “a big financial commitment,” she said, but one she was ready to make. She appreciates the practical design of the building and the marine and industrial atmosphere of the neighborhood, and said it reminded her of Coentis Slip, an industrial neighborhood on the East River of Manhattan where in the 1950s artists Robert Indiana, Ellsworth Kelly and Agnes Martin became neighbors and friends.

“I like the proximity to Casco Bay Bridge and the water and the peninsula and being right there on the edge. The design feels authentic. It’s not fussy. It’s particular, but not limiting,” she said. She also likes the concentration of artists and designers. “It’s going to be a nice change for me. I am looking forward to getting to know another community of people,” she said.

Lee, who owns Speedwell Projects on Forest Avenue and has maintained her studio in the building that houses the gallery, is moving into about 1,200 square feet on the first floor of Cassidy Point. “The idea of having my studio in the same building as the gallery sounded idyllic at first, but I was being interrupted all the time. I am wearing too many hats,” Lee said. “I love the idea of being completely isolated from the other work that I do.”

She plans to move all of her photography, printing and computer equipment to Cassidy Point, as well as much of her finished work “and a lifetime of negatives.” The new space will serve as her office and as a place for small, controlled photo shoots. “It’s big, and the critical thing for me is tons of wall space. I have a giant viewing wall that I can look at my work at in natural light,” said Lee, who lives in Cape Elizabeth. “My hope is this is it for the long haul. I hope this is my final studio home. It is so hard to move.”

Photographer Winky Lewis is renting a studio in the top floor with high ceilings and lots of light. For years, she worked out of her Portland home. About 18 months ago, she got her first studio outside the home. Moving to Cassidy Point represents a leap she is ready to make, she said. “Getting out of the house built my own confidence and legitimized myself in my own eyes and the eyes of others,” she said. “I’m busier and busier all the time, and I am grateful.”

She, too, appreciates the prospects of being among other artists – and a building owner willing to invest in art and aesthetics. “Every time I go by there, Cyrus is outside doing some landscaping,” she said.

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