I BEGAN VISITING Portland’s art galleries and studio spaces seven years ago, as a small-town high school student with aspirations of attending art school. I’m now living abroad, but Portland’s art community continues to inspire me whenever I get a chance to visit. The city’s smaller population compared to others in New England allows for more collaboration between professional and amateur artists, curators, collectors, art students, and the public.
On the first Friday of each month, Portland holds the self-guided First Friday Art Walk. Galleries are located within easy walking distance of each other on Congress St. The walk lasts from 5pm to 8 or 9 — if you can’t make it, most venues listed below also have daily hours when they’re open to the public.
1. Salt Institute for Documentary Studies
The Salt Institute displays photojournalism by both students and professionals, and viewers often have a chance to interact with the images. At one show, work was hung without any background information. Instead, a whiteboard and marker accompanied each image, where viewers could share their reactions without being influenced by the date, location, and other details.
- Address: 561 Congress St.
Phone: (207) 761-0660
Hours: Tues-Fri, 12-4:30
2. Space Gallery
Space is a nonprofit gallery that also hosts artist lectures, independent films, and musical performances. Swoon, a contemporary street artist known for her life-sized wheatpaste prints of classical imagery, had an installation here. There’s a vending machine in the entryway that sells miniature, original works of art.
- Address: 538 Congress St.
Phone: (207) 828-5600
Hours: Wed-Sat, 12-6pm (during exhibition dates) and by chance and appointment
3. The Artist Studios
Thirty-five Portland-based artists work in this shared studio. Fine-art printer Pickwick Independent Press is also located inside, providing printmaking and photographic resources for the artists. The studio provides a glimpse into what Portland’s artists are working on outside of the galleries.
- Address: 536 Congress St.
Phone: (207) 874-0455
Hours: First Friday of each month, 5-9pm and by appointment
4. Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) @ Maine College of Art (MECA)
The ICA displays conceptual art, ranging from drawing to video installation to live performance. Currently, the project Megawords, featuring an independently published photography magazine with a related installation, is on view next to Motorpark, a school bus transformed into an exhibition space, expressing the theme of mobility.
- Address: 522 Congress St.
Phone: (207) 699-5040
Email: Director, Daniel Fuller – dfuller@MECA.edu
Hours: Wed-Sun, 11-5 / Thurs, 11-7
5. June Fitzpatrick Gallery
This privately owned gallery is located in the Maine College of Art, displaying work from MECA graduates and other professional artists. The most inspiring show I’ve seen here was called Maps — four Maine artists created a series of artwork inspired by cartography.
- Address: 522 Congress St.
Phone: (207) 699-5083
Hours: Tues-Sat, 12-5
6. Rose Contemporary
Rose Contemporary opened in 2011 and holds monthly exhibitions. They’ve also developed the Portland Paper Project, an ongoing collection of prints, drawings, collages, and photographs with the aim of making works on paper more accessible to artists, curators, collectors, and the public.
- Address: 492 Congress St.
Phone: (207) 780-0700
Hours: Wed-Sat, 1-6
7. Mayo Street Arts
Mayo Street Arts is a nonprofit center for art, music, and creative collaboration, providing a place for youth of diverse cultural backgrounds to get together and make art. They recently held an exhibit featuring work produced through the group Youth Engagement for Somalis (YES), which empowers Somali girls to express themselves through art. Mayo Street holds events weekly.
- Address: 10 Mayo St.
Phone: (207) 615-3609
Hours: See the calendar for special events and times.
Street art, public murals, and graffiti projects from Portland-based artists like Tim Clorius are scattered throughout Portland — on the sides of buildings, guardrails, and dumpsters and hidden in back alleys. Walk and look.
* For information about other galleries, check Portland’s Downtown District directory.
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Sarah Shaw is a travel writer and artist, currently teaching English at a public elementary school in Seoul, South Korea. She’s originally from Maine, but throughout the past six years she has lived on four different continents, and spends her days getting lost, petting stray cats and embarrassing herself in foreign languages. She is a MatadorU graduate and blogs at Mapping Words, where she explores life as a traveler and expat.
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