From Maine Insights by Ramona du Houx.

The Constellation Gallery offers people a chance to experience art from a variety of disciplines and styles. The diversity on display in the exhibits and studios are exactly what the collaborative of artists likes to offer.

The recent exhibit, Dreams, had 14 different artists, displaying 27 artistic expressions of dreams that stirred one’s imagination. There was something for everyone, which made the exhibition stand out. Many galleries often have solo shows that require the viewer to devote themselves to one artist’s vision. Here there were14 different flavors to choose from. This collaborative approach is key to the mission to Portland’s only non-profit art gallery collective.

“We’re a collective helping to build the creative economy of Portland by engaging the community with what we do at the gallery and through our art, our programs and community partnerships,” said Jos Ruks, President of the Maine Artist Collective. “We’re a group of around thirty individual stars that together form this constellation; I like to call it the Star Gallery. We have members from around the world, now living in Maine, which makes a richer art experience with cultural insights coming through the work.”

The collective is structured democratically, so members can choose the leadership of the organization and participate with the running of the gallery and it’s educational programs.

Although the gallery didn’t start as a collective that had always been an objective of the Portland City Councilor David Marshall, the gallery’s previous owner and founder. Close to three years ago Marshall sold the Constellation Gallery for $1 to the nonprofit artists’ Collective he helped form. They developed by-laws, formed a board and have filled for 501-c3 tax-exempt status with the IRS.

“It was always my vision for Constellation Gallery to be collectively owned and managed by artists,” said Marshall. “We connect the public with Maine artists and provide exhibition and studio space, education and professional workshops.”

The collective is modeled after the non-profit Harlow Gallery, in Hallowell, which has been active for over 50 years.

“The collaborative nature we have here is important,” said Anastasia Weigle, an artist and a board member, whose pieces always give people things to contemplate. “Meeting the artists here and seeing their different pieces helps people connect in a special way to art. Even if they don’t talk to an artist but they look at all the different works of art, maybe they’ll see the world around them differently, and see beauty in everything.”

Weigle, is also professor and recently taught a class at the gallery to Portland High students. She’s been with the Constellation Gallery from its inception. “I love teaching this age. The students always discover something about themselves when they put together their own assemblage. That discovery process begins from the start when they choose what items to put into their piece and grows every time they work on it. As the piece builds, so does their confidence.”

“Other galleries have come and gone during the Great Recession, but we’re still here,” said Marshall. “We’re in this together and I think that makes a difference. It’s affordable for artists to have their own place to exhibit. And if they don’t want their own space they can be a member and have the opportunity to exhibit their work with the collective in group-juried shows.”

The price of a membership is only $60 a year to keep it affordable for all artists, which comes to just $5 a month. Marshall has witnessed the growth of many artists involved with the collective.

“For some of our members showing them a better way to display their work and promote their pieces has helped them,” said Marshall. “My interest was to set this up in order to help artists grow and develop. It’s worked and it is providing a service for artists that we don’t have in the Greater Portland region while enhancing our city’s creative economy.”

Marshall has been City Councilor from District 2 for the past seven and a half years. He got involved in politics because of his art and has run for mayor. Marshall has served on the public art committee, and took on a major role helping to set up the creative economy steering committee in 2007 that developed the arts district Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) and Creative Portland. That TIF distinction has helped infuse millions into the creative economy of Portland for the arts.

Because of Marshall’s work, and many people he knows, Portland has shown the way for other cities to develop their economies through promoting the arts and working with art organizations.
But now the future of the Constellation Gallery, home of the Maine Artists Collective is at risk. The building the gallery operates out of, 511 Congress Street, was recently sold. The new owners have placed a sign in the gallery window offering the space for lease.

The collective has been able to work out of the space because of an understanding the previous owner had with Marshall. The gallery used to pay a percentage of any sales to the landlord in exchange for occupying the space year round.

Now, when the space rents, the collective only has thirty days to find a new location.
“What ever happens the collective will continue,” said Marshall.

If anyone knows of someone interested in helping to continue the educational mission of this community-based art collective please contact the gallery or Marshall directly. 207.409.6617 or Jos Ruks 207.228.5964.

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