The newly opened Paul J. Schupf Art Center in downtown Waterville is part of a broader effort by Colby College to work with municipal officials and local groups like Waterville Creates to help break down an invisible barrier between the college and community. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

WATERVILLE – Colby College President David Greene could barely contain his excitement.

A week before the official opening of the Paul J. Schupf Art Center in downtown Waterville, Greene toured the $18 million, 32,000-square-foot facility with the giddiness of a child at a theme park.

He stopped at the new Joan Dignam Schmaltz Gallery of Art, an extension of the Colby College Museum of Art, and imagined a rotating mix of artwork that would soon adorn the walls.

He surveyed the newly relocated Maine Film Center, which will operate three screens inside the center for audiences of varying size (24, 46 and 120 seats) and will anchor the annual Maine International Film Festival.

He walked across a new skybridge that connects the center to the historic Waterville Opera House, whose entrance and lobby also got a facelift as part of the project. Another part of the new center, Studio 1902, will serve as rehearsal space for the opera house, something it hasn’t had.

And he toured the ground-floor Ticonic Gallery + Studios, which includes educational spaces and a 24-hour pottery workshop, and the area known as The Hub, which will have tables for public use overlooking Castonguay Square and a counter café operated by Maine-based Bixby Chocolates.


“We wanted to create something that would be a real destination,” Greene said. “Not just a series of discrete parts, but all of these pieces working together.”

David Greene, president of Colby College, stands next to a mural by Tessa Greene O’Brien – a Lunder Institute Residential Fellow – during a tour of the Paul J. Schupf Art Center in downtown Waterville. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The Schupf Center, which officially opened to the public Saturday, is a collaboration between Colby and the nonprofit organization Waterville Creates, the umbrella organization for the film center, the opera house and the Ticonic gallery that will operate out of the basement of the new building.

Combined with Colby’s Greene Block + Studios, a collaborative space that opened last year and houses artist fellows, exhibits and performances just down Main Street, the center hopes to transform Waterville into a world-class arts destination and generate economic development in the city for years to come.

“It’s a very exciting time. It’s literally a playground of opportunity,” said Jacqueline Terrassa, director of Colby’s art museum.

The center could never have happened without Colby’s investment, and Colby’s investment was only possible through the generosity of the longtime benefactor whose name is on the building. A wing of the Colby College Museum of Art also is named in honor of Schupf, who died in 2019 at age 82. Though not an alum, Schupf has been one of the college’s largest donors since first coming to Waterville to visit in 1985. He was a trustee from 1991-2006.

“This is his legacy,” Greene said. “I think he would be smiling to see it.”


The downtown art center also is a key piece in Colby’s broader efforts to extend its reach beyond the campus, located about two miles away. Four years ago, Colby opened a 200-student dormitory called Alfond Commons on Main Street, about a block from the new building. More recently, Colby funded the $26 million Lockwood Hotel, the only hotel in Waterville’s downtown.

“I’ve heard from people who say, ‘Why spend money downtown when we have needs on campus?’” he said, although Colby is investing in its campus, too. Next year, the $85 million, 74,000-square foot Gordon Center for Creative and Performing Arts will open. “We want our community to be as strong and inviting to everyone because that’s only going to help the college and its students and staff.”


The two-story brick and glass building is elegant and understated, meant to fit into the architectural landscape of downtown Waterville rather than stand out.

But a retro-looking sign hanging off the front that simply reads “arts” makes clear what lies inside.

For many years, the site was home to a department store and, when that left, Waterville Creates decided to buy it. But the old building was too expensive to keep up and Waterville Creates, a nonprofit, didn’t have the capital to pay for anything new.


That’s where Colby came in.

“We needed someone who was willing to make an investment with no return,” said Shannon Haines, president and CEO of Waterville Creates, which formed in 2014.

Shannon Haines, president and CEO of Waterville Creates, at her office in the Paul J. Schupf Art Center in downtown Waterville. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

That was the same year, incidentally, that Greene started his tenure at Colby.

One of his goals early on was to increase the private college’s visibility in the community. He also wanted to better leverage Colby’s outsized artistic assets.

To see it start to come to fruition has been exciting.

“I think with this center, we’re sort of saying, ‘Art is here, and everyone is welcome,’” Greene said.


The museum on campus is open to the public, and admission is free, but it’s still located on a college campus. Terrassa said the downtown gallery inside the new art center is viewed more as an extension of the museum.

“There are a number of museums that have opened satellite galleries,” she said. “But what feels different here, I don’t know of another that has opened a space that is part of a larger cluster of organizations.”

Indeed, the Schupf Center is home to much more than visual arts, but the museum’s new gallery will serve as an appetizer of sorts for visitors to explore the full museum, which is among the state’s largest.

The goal is to have three exhibitions each year, featuring both selections from the museum’s vast permanent collection and emerging and established contemporary artists.

“It allows us to do some things that might be harder to do on campus,” Terrassa said. “But we don’t want to be prescriptive. So instead of saying, ‘Downtown is going to be this,’ we want to offer a variety of exhibitions that … delight and surprise people.”

The museum already has worked with Waterville Creates, including on the Art in the Park summer series.


As a complement to the museum gallery, the nonprofit will operate its Ticonic Gallery at the other end of the art center, featuring local artists.

Haines said she’s excited to be able to focus more on programming.

“It’s really liberating to be a tenant and not a property manager,” she said.


Even before the Schupf Center opened, Colby’s arts presence has increasingly been felt downtown.

The Greene Block + Studios opened last year, with funding from longtime museum benefactors Peter and Paula Lunder, and houses both public space on the ground floor and studio and office space for the museum’s Lunder Institute for American Art on the upper floors.


Peter Lunder is former president of Dexter Shoes, founded by another major Maine philanthropist, Harold Alfond, and he and his wife had been prolific art collectors for decades. Nearly all of Lunder’s collection of American and European has since been donated to the Colby College Museum of Art.

In just the last year, the Greene Block has hosted visiting artist fellows from Maine and beyond. One of the artists, Gamaliel Rodríguez, is based in Puerto Rico, but said he’d never be able to find the kind of studio space there that he’s been able to use in Waterville. His time in Maine has been fruitful, too. He was one of 20 artists chosen for an exhibit on Puerto Rican art in the wake of Hurricane Maria that’s showing at the Whitney Museum in New York.

“People in New York, other artists, are asking me about this space now,” Rodriguez said.

A construction worker walks through the area known as The Hub within the Paul J. Schupf Art Center in downtown Waterville. The development is part of a broader effort by the college to work with municipal officials and local groups like Waterville Creates to help break down an invisible barrier between the college and community when it comes to the arts. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

As an example of the kind of the partnerships made possible through recent investments downtown, another artist fellow at Greene Block – Tessa Greene O’Brien – was chosen to install a mural at the new Schupf Art Center. Her two-story mural “Fields Alive with Pollen + Wings” features hand-painted Maine flora and fauna with colorful geometric shapes.

“It was certainly convenient that I was just down the street as a fellow,” said O’Brien, who’s from South Portland.

The Greene Block building also is equipped with two oversized garage-style doors that open up to Main Street, almost like an invitation for people walking by to venture inside.


Erica Wall, director of the Lunder Institute, said its role is to foster the relationship between scholarship and art, but she sees many opportunities for interaction with the public as well.

“I think having the new art center so close just makes this building even more vibrant,” she said.

In all, $200 million in public and private funds have been spent downtown – roughly half by Colby College – to improve its status as a destination with arts at the core.

There is always natural tension between colleges and universities and their host communities, and that varies depending on where campuses are located. But since Colby started consciously expanding its footprint into downtown Waterville, the response has been positive.

Many of the amenities in the new art center are free, and Greene said he hopes it becomes a public gathering place.

“I think we can help bridge the gap and democratize art a bit,” he said. “We want to make everyone feel like this is for them.”

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