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DIY venues in the news

In this week's Phoenix, Annie Larmon has a Q&A with Blainor McGough, director of the new Mayo Street Arts center (picture below). The new non-profit community arts center boasts a gallery and music hall where classes will be taught during the week, plus six 10' x 11' artist studios (they're all spoken for right now, but the center is keeping a waiting list). From the Mayo Street Arts Web site: "A new year in new digs, the old St. Ansgar's Church built long long ago by and for hard working Danish Lutheran immigrants, now to be inhabited and unihibited by artists, poets, dancers, dreamers, puppeteers, and other rathscallions and scallywags." The public is invited to see the new space at a benefit on February 13th

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The Apohadion, another unique arts and performance space down on Hanover Street (I performed in Ubu Roi there on January 15), also got some press recently. 

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And last week, I sat down with a group of artists and performers who work/run The Dooryard, still one more alt-arts combo-space in town (108 High Street, above the former Katahdin restaurant [which is, btw, open in its new Forest Ave space]). The Dooryard (formerly the Sound Post) is a building of collectively run artists' studios  (they used to book music performances before the neighbors got mad).

Now, as it experiences something of a turnover among members, and a reinvigoration of its larger purpose, the collective rents workspace (at about $100/month, it's remarkably affordable) and hopes soon to become "more of a community space," says Ahna Galatea (a/k/a Ahna the Ladybeast), one of the near-original members of the group. She and other members talked a great deal about "cross-pollination" between Portland's DIY arts organizations. They also rhapsodized about why spaces like the Dooryard are so important for young artists. 

"I feel more inspired here, I spend more time here, than at home," says TJ Metcalfe, a local musician. 

Sharing space "is an incredible motivating factor," says Blake Hiltunen, an artist who adds that he's excited by how "it seems like everyone who's part of [the Dooryard] is younger than artists in the other spaces...This is like the bud before we all go off and do more awesome things."

Tessa McGow, an artist who created a large bird's nest installation at a First Friday open studios a few months ago (the space also hosted a First Friday event last week), says that when she first entered the Dooryard, "it was a little scary in here." But now, as the group works to tidy up, painting some walls white and re-envisioning the common area, McGow and the rest are looking forward to "a cleaner, crisper looking space."

That said, it's unlikely that the Dooryard, with years of accumulation (including books, art supplies, artwork, an organ, miscellaneous furniture, and ghosts of artists' past) will ever lose it's crazy-grandma's-attic charm. Which is, of course, part of what makes it such a unique landmark on Portland's art-world map. 

Referring to a window at the base of the stairs, Ahna says, "We broke it ourselves, I duct-taped it, we'll fix it ourselves." It sums up their general philosophy quite nicely. 

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Also, Nick Rountree, of Rowan Tree Press, was unable to make our (unofficial) meeting. The next day, Ahna sent over this missive, from Nick, explaining -- in his estimation -- "Why places like The Dooryard matter." Here are his unabridged thoughts:

I'm a printer, not a printmaker. If someone had told me this time last year that i would be saying and explaining that on first fridays I'd have rolled my eyes and laughed it off. This time last year I was approaching six years at my job in commercial printing and feeling frustrated. I had started off in entry level and worked my way to press operator, with a healthy amount of cross training in other aspects of printing. Work is something I'm good at, I learned at my first job that diligence and responsibility are rewarded with respect and advancement. I'd become operator of a digital press, and assisted in the training of new operators. Not bad for a twenty-two year old. Then the advancements stopped and for the last two years I'd been stuck , my requests for additional training always being pushed back just a little farther. I wanted to learn more, needed to in order to feel like my work time wasn't just about filling the coffers of a family that didn't give a damn about me. I decided to take matters into my own hands, and through a series of events worthy of it's own small piece I obtained a vintage Kelsey letterpress. Not quite the beginnings of printing, but one of the most elegant basic presses ever made. I made a small printing space in the corner of my bedroom, read and reread the manual and set about teaching myself how to print well. This went wonderfully and I got my fire back, feeling driven to do just a little bit more every night, try something new after work. The reality of the situation was that a corner of my bedroom wasn't enough space to print in constantly, and it's not like my job payed enough to rent a studio for myself. Another unlikely series of events later and a friend of mine is explaining that the place his band practices has rooms set aside for artists and is currently in need of fresh blood. It's August of last year and I'm sitting in the common area of The Dooryard talking to current members, surveying the state of the space. The Dooryard is an organic living space and I happened upon it during a dormant cycle, whilst it was preparing to shed the detritus of previous growth. This is a nice way of saying it was full of other peoples things, lots of things. It was a project that seemed herculean in scope but for a very reasonable monthly payment the space was too good to pass up. I wheeled my press and the cabinet it's fastened on up to 108 high street, dragged it up to the third floor and placed it in its new home. We cleaned and organized for two months and in November opened our doors for a studio walkthrough, showcasing the new look and focus. I spent an evening talking about the perfect design of the Kelsey and how great it felt to be learning again. The Dooryard has given me back my drive and provided me with a space to learn and grow again. Being able to create whenever I feel the urge is a luxury I didn't know I'd been missing until I had it. The Dooryard and places like it are essential to Portland's growth. A year ago I wouldn't have counted myself part of the "creative economy" of Maine, and unless you count a few prints sold for cheap money I'm still not. The Dooryard has kept me in Maine however and given me a way to continue learning my profession without abandoning the city I love." -Nick Rountree
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