WESTBROOK — Although the developers of Rock Row have removed outdoor concerts from their short-term plans, their continued commitment to arts will be on display, physically, starting this weekend, with a large-scale, open-air exhibit featuring sculptures and murals by nearly a dozen of Maine’s leading contemporary artists.

“Rock Row: Inside, Outside the Box” will feature six, 20-foot-long shipping containers and the area around them with a mix of projects, including Portland sculptor Aaron T Stephan’s latest piece, “Structures of Revolution,” a 12-foot tower made from aluminum that references the Eiffel Tower, Tatlin’s Tower, and the interior structure of the Statue of Liberty.

There’s an installation by Amy Stacey Curtis, a stone sculpture by Jesse Salisbury, and a still-evolving wooden sculpture by Wade Kavanaugh and Stephen B. Nguyen.

The goal of the inaugural exhibition, which will remain open through the fall, is to attract attention to the development in general and the potential for art at the site, said Greg John, chief marketing officer for Waterstone Properties, the Needham, Massachusetts, company building the 110-acre retail, office and housing development near the Portland-Westbrook line.

Despite this week’s announcement that the development’s outdoor concert venue Maine Savings Pavilion would not reopen, Josh Levy, Waterstone’s founding partner, said the arts in general remain integral to the project’s identity. When Rock Row begins building housing, it likely will incorporate space for an artist-in-residence, who will live and work on site. And there are plans to bring back live music as well – specifically, in the form of a permanent, enclosed venue.

ACCESSIBLE ART

For the temporary art exhibition, Waterstone is paying each artist a stipend of $5,000 or $10,000 to show their work. Arrayed over several hundred feet in a strip of grass behind Market Basket near Larrabee Road, the art is displayed in an unglamorous location, buffered on one side by a fenced-in gravel parking lot for the now-closed outdoor concert venue and on the other side by the grocery store loading dock.

“Inside, Outside the Box” has a “soft” opening Friday, with an opening celebration Sept. 17.

The Market Basket sign peeks above “Boulder Holder,” digital art by Tessa Greene O’Brien. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Jenny McGee Dougherty, Mike Rich, Will Sears, Clink Fulkerson and Tessa Green O’Brien are showing murals on the sides of the shipping containers, and Kayte Demont, an artist from Cumberland, invites people inside, filling her container with what she called “a trippy immersive underwater reality” with fabric, textiles and sound. A Maine native who has lived in Boston, Los Angeles and Denver, and who recently returned home, she described “Inside, Outside the Box” as the kind of contemporary art experience she expected to find in the other places she has lived.

She applied to participate through an open call for artists because she saw it as an opportunity “to turn the traditional art scene on its head. I have been exposed to how art can be so many different things over the last decade of living elsewhere and appreciate how outside-the-box people think and how they push the boundaries when it comes to art.”

Levy likes the idea of free public art because it’s accessible. “I can’t stand galleries that are stuffy and intimidating. Here, we can put it on display, outside, with a bunch of free parking and make it accessible to everyone. Everyone can enjoy it, but in your own way,” he said.

The property’s 110 acres include a 400-foot wide stone quarry, as well as railroads tracks that are no longer in use. Levy hinted that one of his long-term goals, or dreams, includes an art installation that incorporates the railroad tracks, train engines, trolleys and other railroad cars.

Wade Kavanaugh works on “Sketch for Rock Row,” a wooden sculpture he designed with collaborator Stephen B. Nguyen. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“It’s kind of an interesting place for an art installation,” Kavanaugh said on Thursday, as he worked between raindrops to continue building the piece “Striped Canary,” which involves a winding ramp of elevated picnic table-like structures built into the side of a shipping container tilted on its side and filled with wood.

He and Nguyen received a $10,000 stipend. Kavanaugh admitted to being attracted to the project by the paycheck. “To be quite frank, they had money,” he said. “And it was an opportunity.”

As he worked, Kavanaugh eyed the quarry nearby and started thinking about the kind of art he and Nguyen might make there or how to incorporate that landscape into new work. Kavanaugh, from Bethel, and Nguyen from Portland, lost a $1 million commission at a new convention center in Seattle because of the pandemic. It would have involved a massive wooden sculpture fastened to the ceiling of the glass-walled convention center. They remain committed to working on a grand scale and hope the container project might lead to other things.

Kavanaugh said part of his creative core “is on fire when I see a site like this. I am skeptical of big box developments, but with a place like this, you can’t do any wrong because it has been so severely blighted with its industrial past.”

Levy said Waterstone intends to incorporate art and artistic expression into each facet of the development, which is scheduled to unfold over many years. “Inside, Outside the Box” is the first of what will be a regular display of art in the complex, he said.

“Leading with the arts is incredibly important to us. Once the buildings are built, we can’t change them, but we can change the art and people’s experience with that art all the time,” Levy said.

FUTURE PLANS, CURRENT FOCUS

Levy insisted, despite the permanent closure of Maine Savings Pavilion, that live music will be prominent going forward. He said the decision not to reopen the outdoor concert venue, which operated for one season in 2019 and had shows booked for this summer, was related to permitting and construction of a planned medical center on the site and not the persistent noise complaints of neighbors, which marred the first season.

He called the pavilion “a proof-of-concept project … that was not without some kinks along the way, and we appreciate the feedback of our neighbors,” but said that the developers had all along envisioned a permanent flexible performance space, likely attached to a convention center. Right now, Levy said he and his partners at Waterstone are working toward just that – a music venue with an indoor concert area and large overhead doors that would open up to an outdoor seating.

“Rock Row,” a spray painting by Mike Rich, and “seed,” a granite sculpture by Jesse Salisbury, are part of “The Rock Row: Inside, Outside The Box” exhibition behind the new Market Basket store at Rock Row. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

He didn’t offer a time frame for the project or details about the plans, other than to say he and his partners are modeling their idea on the Toyota Music Factory in Irving, Texas, part of a much larger mixed-use development with a performance venue that converts from a 2,500-seat theater to a 4,000-seat theater to an 8,000-seat open-air pavilion.

For now, the developers are focusing on contemporary art. They opened up their inaugural exhibition to anyone through an open call for art, then hired independent curator Bethany Engstrom of Belfast to recruit artists and coordinate the exhibition. This week, she affixed signage to the containers, which are covered with murals.

“I think this is a great opportunity for Maine artists,” she said, praising the developers for providing artists with an open-ended opportunity to create new work and a good paycheck.

Curtis, from Lyman, used some of her stipend to hire a team of assistants to cut and paint 11,178 3-by-3-inch wooden cubes, which she aligned on either side of the container. Visitors are instructed to remove one cube from each side of the container to keep it symmetrical – and take the cubes home.

“I wanted a lot of cubes because of the potential for a lot of people to participate,” she said. “One of the cool things about this exhibition is it is exposing contemporary art to lot more everyday people who would not necessarily be going into a gallery or museum, but they do happen to be going to Market Basket. It’s all out in the open, and anyone can just experience it. I like that art is for everyone.”

The aluminum sculpture “Structures of Revolution,” by Aaron T Stephan. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

For Stephan, who lives in Portland, “Inside, Outside the Box” gave him a chance to complete the tower project he has been thinking about, and planning, since he made a model of the tower five or six years ago. He appreciated being allowed to make the work, with no questions asked and no pushback about “a fairly loaded political piece. Their willingness to do that is amazing.”

The paycheck helped, too.

“I am always happy about money in the arts,” Stephan said. “That is good, and they seem to have a plan to do a lot more art at the site. That is really important. I think it’s not very often that somebody developing something of this scale is thinking about integrating art, so that I think that is fantastic.”

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