The art scene in Freeport is getting an infusion of energy with the recent appointment of a new executive director of the Arts & Cultural Alliance of Freeport and the opening of the Meetinghouse Arts community gathering space.

The arts center at 40 Main St. operates within the historic First Parish Church. The congregation is leasing space to the arts and cultural alliance, which operates Meetinghouse Arts. With an art gallery where local artists can show and sell their work and a performance space in the sanctuary large enough to accommodate 150 people, Meetinghouse Arts will curate and host art exhibitions, music and theater performances, classes, workshops, lectures and other events.

The art gallery is open, and the performance space has just been renovated. Snowlion Repertory Company will host the first play in new space, “My Witch,” about the actress Margaret Hamilton, in late October.

“My goal is to have this place brimming with activity and booked to the extent we can handle it with a variety of events,” said Dana Legawiec, who began her duties at executive director of the Arts & Cultural Alliance of Freeport in June. “Over time, it’s about using the arts to shape the culture of the town through connection to community.”

Meetinghouse Arts is located within one of Freeport’s historic buildings. Constructed in 1895 to replace a church that had burned, the Victorian-era First Parish was built with ornate stained-glass windows, pews shaped for the human body and the sanctuary itself, and exposed hand-hewn trusses supported by knee braces. There’s also a pipe organ.

The congregation was established in 1789. First Parish is still active, though less so than in the past. Seeking a long-term tenant, the church and the Arts & Cultural Alliance of Freeport agreed to a 10-year lease. The congregation will continue to hold Sunday services in the sanctuary and community programs in the basement.

David Greenham, executive director of the Maine Arts Commission, called the arrangement unique and an example of creative problem-solving, because it involves two organizations with different missions and goals finding a way to help each other plan a future that involves their mutual co-existence.

“This idea of cooperation is really what is nice about this story,” he said. “We often get so siloed in our own organization, there is sometimes not as much spirit of community collaboration as there could be. This is an example of people stepping out of their silos to come together.”

From left, Nicole Nappi, Stacey Lodato and Louise Price hang work for the opening show, “The Color of Light,” at Meetinghouse Arts. Lodato, of Freeport, is the chair of the gallery committee while Nappi, of Brunswick, and Price, of Freeport, are committee members. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The gallery, which began showing the work of local artists in June, opened its second group exhibition, “The Color of Light,” last week. It is on view through Oct. 17. The alliance also has hosted an outdoor summer concert series in the parking lot out back. The final concert in the series begins at 1 p.m. Sunday with the folk-roots trio Low Lily. In addition to the concert, the musicians will host a songwriting workshop.

Legawiec’s background is theater and building community through the arts. She did her undergraduate work at Princeton University and earned a master’s in arts in education from Harvard University. She teaches theater at Colby College and the University of Southern Maine. She also graduated from the Dell’Arte School of Physical Theater, and has performed with Celebration Barn, Figures of Speech Theater and many other theater companies across Maine.

She is eager to begin programming in the indoor space. As part of the renovation of Meetinghouse Arts, the alliance installed a new ventilation system that is regulated by sensors based on the number of people in the gallery and performance venue.

“We are thrilled to include Snowlion as the first theater company on the calendar for a full production in October,” she said. “I am also hopeful we can produce a variety of standalone events starting in September. We are having conversations with local and regional performing artists, music ensembles, theater companies, and cultural organizations regarding performances, workshops, recitals and lectures – and connecting those offerings to meeting the needs, interests and desires of the local community.”

Margit Ahlin, Snowlion’s producing director, said the theater company needed a new home with the closing of the Portland Ballet Studio Theater, where Snowlion presented many of its shows. Ahlin knew Legawiec through the Camden Shakespeare Festival, which Legawiec leads with her husband, Stephen.

“It was kind of serendipity,” Ahlin said. “We were looking for a space, and they were looking for someone to present shows. I said, ‘We’re interested,’ and they said, ‘We’re interested, too.’ ”

On Oct. 16, Meetinghouse Arts will host a touring production of “The Marvelous Meep Island Adventure,” by the University of Southern Maine theater department. It will be a free outdoor performance for kids and families.

Nancy Salmon, board president of Arts & Cultural Alliance of Freeport, said Legawiec’s hiring and the opening of the new space gives the alliance strong footing for the near future and for many years to come.

“This is a community gathering space, and it has been for many years,” Salmon said. “Dana knows how to bring the community in.”


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