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Updated: April 11, 2024

Arts hub in Norway is making headway with renovation of vintage factory

aerial view of old building Courtesy / Lights Out Gallery A nonprofit called Lights Out Gallery bought 10 Tannery St. in Norway, and is converting the space into a multiuse space to include a gallery, dance studio, artists studios, and additional working and display spaces.

An initiative to create an arts center in the Oxford County town of Norway is making progress, as a nonprofit called Lights Out Gallery renovates an old factory to become a physical hub for artists and the community.

Led by three Maine natives — Reed McLean, Daniel Sipe and Karlë Woods — work is underway to convert a 15,000-square-foot building at 10 Tannery St. into a space for a gallery, dance studio, painters studios and additional working and display spaces.

“Norway has always been a really interesting hotbed in the arts,” said McLean. “There are artists, writers, poets and there is a big performing arts scene in Norway. So I think it is a natural place for a project like this.”

3 people standing and hugging
Courtesy / Ezra Churchill
From left, Daniel Sipe, Reed McLean and Karlë Woods are creating an arts hub in Norway.

The trio’s nonprofit bought the property in February 2023, and began renovations with the help of volunteers and donations. The plan is to make the location a home to dozens of small businesses, local organizations, artists, makers and educators in the town of 5,000 people. 

“From Lights Out’s central hub, in the town of Norway, to Maine statewide, we amplify the diverse community of artists in one of our country's more rural states,” said Sipe.

“By featuring, documenting, and supporting artists from all stages of their careers, and increasing access to local arts, education, and community, we expand what is possible in Maine as a contemporary arts destination in conversation with regional, national and international arts.”

Pandemic boredom

Sipe, age 31, is a political organizer by trade. McLean, 28, and Woods, 27, are artists.

In the winter of 2020, they started a project to make video interviews of Maine artists in their studios and broadcast them through Instagram (@LightsOutGallery) and YouTube.

“We were bored during the pandemic,” Sipe told Mainebiz. “We had lost our jobs.”

The first year they did 46 interviews. Overall, the trio has turned out more than 80, and have since donated them to Colby College’s digital archives.

When it became clear that the videos were gaining attention, the artists started throwing pop-up art shows. The first was held August 2021 in Portland, with 100 pieces from 24 artists. 

“We took over an abandoned bar space and turned it into fine art gallery,” Sipe said.

More pop-ups ensued, including one at a redemption center in Bridgton with works from 14 artists. There have been eight shows so far in southern Maine, with more planned this year.

Snowshoe factory

In 2023, their nonprofit bought 10 Tannery St., a vacant factory on nearly an acre of land, and which dates to 1906. The building once was home to Tubbs Snowshoes, which produced snowshoes, skis and sleds there and contributed to Norway’s reputation as the Snowshoe Capital of the World, according to the Norway Historical Society. Tubbs is now based in Seattle.

“We purchased the snowshoe factory because it was falling into the ground,” said Sipe. “We bought it for Reed’s studio — it was cheaper to buy it than paying rent on a studio. But it’s 15,000 square feet, which is huge.”

Realizing there was a need for a central community location where artists of all types could gather, work and collaborate, they hit on the idea of redeveloping the property for a larger good.

“We realized there’s a need for so many things in Norway and in the area,” said Sipe. “So we began to build this project around the needs of the community.”

group of people standing on and near staircase
Courtesy / Lights Out Gallery
The renovation project has attracted hundreds of volunteers who have put in thousands of hours.

The nonprofit built a board of directors and advisors from around the state who have experience making projects of this scale happen, said Sipe. 

The first task was to empty the building, which had been used for storage.

“We bought all the contents with the building and sold and disposed of the contents,” he said.

Renovations since then have attracted hundreds of volunteers from the local area and from across Maine, who have put in thousands of hours.

“We lifted the whole building and replaced the foundation, all with the help of volunteers over four months,” he said. “On volunteer work days, we have maybe 30 people show up. Most have driven an hour to two hours to make this project happen.”

big room with lots of people standing around
Courtesy / Ezra Churchill
By last summer, enough space was ready to host an art show of over 120 known and emerging artists from across Maine.

Additional work has included stripping the Masonite flooring, which revealed original hemlock. Rotten sills were replaced and frames were straightened. 

By last summer, enough space was ready to host an art show of over 120 known and emerging artists from across Maine. 

Donations and grants

The plan is to open sections of the building gradually. The first space to become available will be a dance studio, scheduled to open this spring.

In addition to volunteer labor, donations have included money and goods, including private gifts across the state and the installation of a staircase, valued at $80,000, from Bancroft Contracting Corp. in South Paris.

big room with shiny wood floor and people
Courtesy / Lights Out Gallery
A dance studio is the first space to come online in a redeveloped factory that’s home to Lights Out Gallery.

The nonprofit also has received a $20,000 grant from the Maine-based Betterment Fund and a $230,000 grant from the Maine Department of Economic & Community Development.

Last year, Sipe introduced the project to Norway Savings Bank, which donated $5,500 for programming and $10,000 that year for construction, with another $10,000  planned for this year.

“I really enjoyed meeting them and seeing the passion and enthusiasm with which they are approaching this project,” said Dan Walsh, the bank’s president and CEO. “That energy is spreading throughout the area as the idea of having a vibrant arts center just off of Main Street gets closer to reality.”

Multiyear project

The next urgent repair will be replacement of the roof. The nonprofit has set up a Go Fund Me campaign called “Raise the Roof” with a goal to raise $75,000; nearly $50,000 has so far been donated. Click here to access the campaign.

To date, volunteers have spent hours slathering the roof with sealant, effective for staving off leaks but ultimately a temporary solution. 

Beyond that, the full renovation of the building is estimated to cost $3 million to $6 million over several years. The nonprofit recently hired Portland architecture, construction and millwork firm Woodhull and tentatively plans to launch a capital campaign later this year.

For Sipe and McLean, the operation has been a full-time job that initially didn’t generate an income. They are now drawing salaries from the project. 

“While it was a full-time passion project in the beginning, we have matured to a state where paying ourselves is an essential component of long term sustainability,” said McLean.

Said Sipe, “We’ve basically been building our organization to get to where we are now, with our vision leading us into the future.”

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