RUMFORD – The county’s only revolving door will come to a standstill at the end of the month when the Pennacook Art Center gallery closes and its members search for a new way to get art into the community.

Opened as a commercial gallery by Maryland businessman Lem Cissel three-and-a-half years ago, the nonprofit artists’ cooperative took it over in May 2006. The building is up for sale.

“This was to be the flagship of the creative economy for the island (downtown Rumford),” said Betsy Bell, consultant for the gallery, an artist, and former gallery manager.

Keeping the center open become increasingly difficult and the energy and money to keep it going caused the nonprofit board to lose track of its long-term goals. Those are to build the arts – visual, performing, or literary – into the fabric of the community, “to be a part of how the community sees itself,” Bell said.

A loss in foot traffic didn’t help, either. The gallery is a busines, and this past summer saw a dramatic decrease in sales.

“The Pennacook Art Center is supposed to be a center for the arts, but we are just one kind of art,” said Shannon Couture, president of the art center board of directors, who also said that the energy needed to keep the storefront gallery open has taken away from offering classes and other artistic endeavors. “We’ll be refocusing.”

Bell said the model the art center used for integrating art into the community is an urban one, not one formulated for a rural area.

“The need for classes is so great because if we don’t have classes and reach out to the next generation, Pennacook will die with us,” she said.

Once the gallery closes its doors, she and others on the board will begin research to find the appropriate method to get the arts into the community.

Several organizations have offered office space for the organization. Bell said the new location will be announced once a contract is signed.

That space won’t be a gallery, though, although some art work will be hung.

One of the things the group hopes to do is find a variety of venues for hanging art.

“We have to take our art outside of the four walls,” Bell said.

The board has done this twice so far: once in Andover and another time in Sunday River. And the Moontide Water Festival Committee has asked the group to display artwork during the summer event.

One artist who displays her work at the gallery, Carole Rickard, continues to create her nature scenes and other subjects and teaches younger people the craft. The two have their work on display at Rumford Public Library.

Bell and Couture said the Internet will play a large role in marketing artwork, too. A Web site is under construction, pennacookarts.com, and should be up next year.

Bell has mixed feelings about the closure of the gallery. She’s sorry that such a public space will be disappearing, she’s also hopeful about the future, and some of the things she and the board learned since the art center came together.

“There are so many good artists in the area. It takes times to build community support and we ran out of time,” she said.


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