The Desert of Maine, a Freeport tourist attraction founded in 1926, will partner with a newly formed nonprofit organization to offer artistic and educational programming.

The Desert of Maine Center for the Arts and Environmental Education, which was incorporated in April, has hired Hannah Gathman, a former coordinating director of the Arts & Cultural Alliance of Freeport, as its first executive director.

The Desert of Maine, a commercial entity, will continue to operate a campground and tourism ventures.

The nonprofit will organize and promote arts and cultural programming, educational workshops and school field trips on site in the Desert of Maine’s historic Tuttle Barn and on its dunes.

“When we purchased the Desert of Maine with the vision of restoring it, it was my dream to create a place that could host immersive nature-based educational experiences and inspire artistic expression,” said Mela Heestand, who with her husband Doug purchased the Desert of Maine in 2018, and who will sit on the non-profit’s board of directors. “By creating a nonprofit at the Desert of Maine, we will be able to focus on delivering this type of programming and fulfill the tremendous potential of this site.”

The volunteer board will also include Freeport residents John Albright, Tom Boutureira and Lauren Manganello as well as Anne Ackerman of Portland and Deb Perkins of Poland, Maine.

Gathman previously worked with the Heestands and the Desert of Maine as a consultant through her firm Promenade Projects. Gathman holds a BA in Art History and an MS in Arts Administration from Boston University, and prior to moving to Maine worked for the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston’s Seaport District, where she was the director of Events and Social Programming.

“Having someone as talented as Hannah in place to lead the organization is incredibly exciting,” Heestand said. “She’s passionate about the mission, brings deep understanding of how nonprofits work, and already has great working relationships across Freeport.”

“Over the past few years, I’ve been entranced by the Desert of Maine and by Mela and Doug’s vision for how this unique place can be a sparkling gem in Freeport,” Gathman said. “I’m thrilled to get to work with a truly impressive board of directors to create programming in this amazingly distinctive setting that is exciting and accessible to all Mainers—starting with the Freeport residents we haven’t met yet.”

According to Gathman, initial programs from the organization will include live music performances, a formalized school field trip program and a showcase of local artisans. Future programming will feature a year-round performance calendar housed in the to-be-restored Tuttle Barn, with the building restoration planned for 2022. Programming updates can be found at

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