After graduating, a group of art-minded Bowdoin alumni began sharing an apartment and a studio space together in Portland, Maine. They found the communal experience so invigorating, they decided they should share it more widely — by creating a public art space.
They already had the right spot: their West Bayside studio. With its high ceilings, concrete floors, and open, roomy feel, it had the beginnings of an appealing exhibition site. After receiving approval from their landlord, they renovated it and opened up New System Exhibitions at 82 Parris Street this summer.
On June 28, the six founders — Isaac Jaegerman ’16, Hector Magaña ’16, Cody Stack ’16, Henry Austin ’16, Alice Jones ’17, and Franklin Ahrens ’18 — had an opening for their first show, which included artworks from Haleigh Collins ’17, Meg Hahn, and Gianna Dispenza. Hahn and Dispenza are both Portland-based artists. Collins lives in Brooklyn, N.Y,
“Our goal is to provide a venue for less-commercial curatorial ideas like installations and temporary performances, as well as formal art exhibitions, critiques, and discussions for emerging artists in the Maine community, who, in recent years, have found fewer and fewer places to exhibit their work,” Jaegerman said.
Stack considers the look of New System Exhibitions — the name borrowed from the innovative industrial laundromat that once occupied the brick building — and its sizable dimensions as advantages for the new gallery. “We wanted to give younger artists places to show emerging work that is to scale, or has a full body to articulate, and Portland doesn’t have a lot of spaces this size,” he said. He added, “For the last two years it was closed doors and our private area, and with this becoming more part of Portland and the spaces around us engaging with the community more frequently, we were encouraged to think about [opening an exhibition space].”
The location of the gallery is part of a rapidly changing neighborhood in Portland. This winter, construction on a six-story condominium will begin next door, and the city’s public works department just sold its property across the street. At the moment, being on the cusp of change presents both opportunity and challenge, according to Jaegerman.
“The Bayside neighborhood is off the arts district path, so drawing people here may be a small challenge,” he said. “But the benefit of Bayside, and especially West Bayside, is that it hasn’t been heavily developed. These spaces are a little rougher, and affordable to people like us. And if we can start out early establishing a little art space, that will hopefully continue to exist in this neighborhood as bigger things get built.”