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Arts & Culture

Maitland Art Center returns to roots

Artist Josette Urso inaugurates its reborn artist-in-residence program

Photo: , License: N/A

Artist Josette Urso

Photo: PHOTO by ROB BARTLETT, License: N/A

PHOTO by ROB BARTLETT

Andrea Baley Cox


Smiling, he passes along a veiled warning for artists living in Smith’s studio: “For the first few weeks there, I slept with my keys and a flashlight, bag packed. Strange sounds awoke me at night. It was unnatural. The disapproving frown on Andre Smith’s bust in the gallery felt like it was directed towards me.” Whether it’s haunted or not, the Art Center’s past spurred him on.

But that was a long time ago, in the bygone era when National Endowment for the Arts grants were still available to restore rotting wood and cracked stucco, and to expand a facility while allowing it to stay true to its original mission. Today, lumped together with the Telephone Museum, the Carpentry Shop Museum and the Victorian Waterhouse Residence, the Maitland Art Center can seem like it’s being treated as part of a collection of white elephants, its original purpose diluted. Smith’s stern spirit seems powerless against moneymen and bureaucrats, and the Art Center is peddled as just another setting for weddings and festivals, the “Research Studio” sign a faded reminder of a time when Zora Neale Hurston came over to talk and artists like Milton Avery, Doris Lee and Teng Chiu graced its studios for the winter.

Andrea Bailey Cox, current director of the Art and History Museums Maitland, looks on the bright side. “This year is the 75th anniversary of the Art Center’s founding,” she says, and in its honor, “we decided to revive the Artist-in-Residency Program. Josette Urso is an exciting inaugural artist, and she’ll be here for six weeks. She will participate in the Art Center’s events, and we hope to relaunch Andre Smith’s original mission to bring fine artists here for creative exploration.” Urso will be one of two artists coming in 2013, and the Art Center hopes to expand into two simultaneous residences in the future, with artists applying for three-, six- or nine-week stints.

The original studios are tiny. Artists lived and worked in monastic deprivation, inhabiting bedroom-sized spaces, getting together in the garden for tea and to critique each other’s work. The idea of a collegiate, fluid research effort may be difficult to imagine in today’s corporate, bottom-line world.

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