Center for Maine Contemporary Art

Financing the Construction of a Creative Economy

Since it re-opened in its new home, the Center for Maine Contemporary Art (CMCA) in Rockland, Maine, has more than quadrupled attendance from an average 9,000 to nearly 40,000 visitors. That astounding growth is illustrative of a surging interest in Maine’s contemporary art scene, and is transforming the economy of this coastal fishing community. Cooperation among public and private sectors help make Rockland a robust tourist destination, and helped to strengthen a rural region.

Center for Maine Contemporary Art, Rockland, Maine (photo by Dave Clough)

To meet demand and evolve with the times, CMCA, a 64-year resident of a former firehouse in nearby Rockport, needed to invest in its future. Design and building efforts began in 2013 for a unique modern facility by internationally recognized architect Toshiko Mori, which was expected to help the museum broaden its audience and deepen its roots within the heart of the mid-coast. “CMCA wants to be a catalyst for Maine’s future, forward-looking and innovative,” said Suzette McAvoy, executive director of CMCA. “We want to be one of the partners in creating an economically diverse and vital community where young people want to live and work.”

The initial funding for the ambitious and visionary new home came in the form of grants and donations, but those were insufficient to allow CMCA to refinance an existing loan and cover construction costs. CEI stepped in to bridge the gap between fundraising efforts, and provide the kind of financial flexibility that CMCA needed in order to grow.

“The arts are an extremely valuable part of the Maine brand and CMCA combined with other local arts related businesses in Rockland are a huge economic draw to the area, creating jobs and economic prosperity as well as adding vitality to the region,” said Cole Palmer, CEI Loan and Investment Officer.

A creative financing solution bought CMCA time to pay down the CEI loan.

“Our working relationship with CEI has only been extremely positive, cordial, and supportive. We’re very grateful to CEI for recognizing the importance of arts in the community and how CMCA can be a part of that,” said Suzette.

CMCA’s deeply supportive Board of Directors pushed the project forward, with additional financing from multiple local institutions, a capital campaign, and overall community support.

CEI has had a multi-decade presence supporting a variety of businesses in mid-coast Maine, including Rockland’s legacy art institutions. The world-renown Farnsworth Art Museum, home to the legendary Wyeth family collection has a significant presence in the small city since 1948. It faced capital refurbishment needs that could not be paid for with a restricted endowment. Significant structural renovations needed to protect dozens of famous paintings by three generations of Wyeths were financed by CEI Capital Management. This community investment also allowed the Farnsworth to lower the overall cost of capital for the construction.

Center for Maine Contemporary Art, Rockland, Maine (photo by J. Laurence)

Rockland has grown its reputation as Maine’s art destination. With exhibitions and events that complement but don’t overlap, these arts facilities have proven to be mutually beneficial to one another, drawing other artists, programs, and visitors from all over Maine and New England, exponentially increasing the economic impact of arts in the Rockland community.

The prosperity from the creative economy is being shared in the area. The tourist economy there has steadily grown with the creative one. Galleries, shops, and award-winning restaurants pepper Main Street in Rockland. Hotels, bed and breakfasts, and inns report full occupancy in busy summer and fall months. Most recently, Amtrak’s Downeaster train service to Boston has announced an expanded route along the coast to Rockland.

CMCA and The Farnsworth have become essential for making art an accessible and vital part of contemporary life. Through their progressive, forward-looking programming and exhibits of larger-scale installations, both are giving back, often in partnerships with other community organizations including local schools. “The arts are not just for the elite but really truly are of impact and value to the whole community and everyone in Maine,” said Suzette.