Waterville’s New Downtown Arts Center Unites a Whole Lot of Culture Under One Roof

The Paul J. Schupf Art Center brings film, theater, and arts education to Waterville’s Main Street.

The exterior of the Paul J. Schupf Art Center in Waterville, Maine
Photo by Dave Waddell

For Shannon Haines, former executive director of the Maine Film Center, the most frustrating part of running an arts organization was getting bogged down in menial work. As one of just three full-time staffers, Haines often found herself cleaning the office and stuffing envelopes, which meant less time spent promoting first-run screenings of independent films and organizing the annual Maine International Film Festival. Leaders at other Waterville arts nonprofits commiserated. So in 2014, several of them banded together to form Waterville Creates, to help streamline programming and marketing efforts while supporting and expanding Waterville’s unique arts assets.

By the end of 2018, Waterville Creates had officially absorbed three of its founding organizations, including the Maine Film Center, along with the Waterville Opera House, a live performing-arts venue, and Ticonic Gallery + Studios, focused on arts education and exhibition.

Waterville Creates president and CEO Shannon Haines
Waterville Creates president and CEO Shannon Haines. Photo by Dave Waddell

The organization maintains one nonprofit board, including representation from partner Colby College, a huge efficiency that helps avoid volunteer burnout. “We provide back-end support, including fundraising, HR, and marketing, for these amazing programs to grow and flourish,” says Haines, now the president and CEO of Waterville Creates. 

But not until now, with the opening of downtown Waterville’s Paul J. Schupf Art Center, last December, have all the divisions been under one roof. The center, owned by Colby and designed in partnership with Waterville Creates, houses the Joan Dignam Schmaltz Gallery of Art, a new downtown extension of the Colby College Museum of Art, and the Waterville Creates administrative offices. On the first floor is Ticonic Gallery + Studios, which includes a clay studio, arts classroom, and exhibition space. The Maine Film Center’s three-screen cinema, formerly located at Railroad Square, is on the center’s second floor, along with concessions (including beer and wine). 

The new building is also home to a dedicated rehearsal space, Studio 1902, and a costume room for the Waterville Opera House, with an enclosed glass sky bridge connecting the center to the historic 800-seat theater on the upper floors of the city hall, next door. “The fact that we’re all co-located is really energizing for people,” Haines says. “We’ve always been really good at collaborations and coming up with dynamic programs across the different media that we present, but to be in the same space makes it easier to generate those ideas.”

Scenes from the opening of downtown Waterville’s new Paul J. Schupf Art Center. Photos by Dave Waddell.

At the center of it all is the Ed Harris Box Office — the actor developed a fondness for Waterville while filming Empire Falls and donated to the building’s capital campaign. “Whether you are buying a ticket for the Waterville Opera House or the Maine Film Center, or registering your kid for an art class, you can now do it all in one consolidated location,” Haines says. “We’re counting on patrons who love the film center coming to a movie, seeing information about a show at the opera house, making that transition to also become opera house patrons, and vice versa.”

Haines is most excited about how the new location will help achieve the mission of arts experiences for all, thanks in large part to the building’s visibility, as well as the support already shown by the city and its residents. “We had more people come to our gallery in one day, in this new building, than came to an entire past exhibition at our former location,” Haines says. “We’re front and center in the heart of downtown. I think that says a lot about this community’s commitment to the arts as an important part of our future.”

Learn more about the Paul J. Schupf Art Center and Waterville Creates events and programs here.