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August 1, 2021

Maine artists open Portland pop-up gallery in former Lululemon store

Inside gallery at 18 Exchange St. Photo / Renee Cordes A pop-up art gallery at 18 Exchange St. in Portland opened Sunday in a space formerly occupied by Lululemon.

Months after athletic apparel retailer Lululemon closed its shop in Portland's Old Port, more than a dozen Maine artists have transformed the space into a pop-up gallery that opened on Sunday.

A rare affordable find in the city's high-rent retail district, the temporary gallery at 18 Exchange St. features the work of the new Maine Art Collective founded by Sue Vittner, Marni Prince and JoAnn Dowe.

"We wanted the Old Port and saw a few places there," Vittner, an artist and massage therapist, told Mainebiz. "We looked in Brunswick, too, but since I've had a massage place for about 15 years on Exchange, I knew that's where my heart is."

Soon after 18 Exchange St. was vacated last December, Vittner and three other artists eyed the space with interest. However, the listed monthly rent of $6,950 for 2,366 square feet was initially out of their price range.

As the group grew to 14 and the space stayed vacant, Vittner reached out to see if the owner would let the artists rent month-by-month until a permanent, full-price tenant was found. They struck a deal, but Vittner wouldn't disclose the current rent.

The space's former identity as a clothing store was evident on Sunday, from the large storefront window to former curtained fitting rooms being used for storage. The gallery pops with color and natural sunlight, and with a wide range of works on display including paintings, photographs and sculptures.

While minding the gallery that morning, Bar Harbor-based artist Karl Swan Norberg fielded questions from one couple seeking an oyster-themed work of art.

He told Mainebiz there were lots of works in stock to replace displayed pieces as they're sold, adding, "We hope we'll have to replace everything."

The artist, whose works were near the entrance, said he jumped at the chance to join the cooperative and have an Old Port audience, after being unable to find someplace affordable in Bar Harbor and opting instead for an online presence.

The Maine Art Collective gallery opened just in time for Portland's next First Friday Art Walk on Aug. 6, and is scheduled to be open through Sept. 30. The gallery is open daily from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. and will host a special opening event for the public this Friday from 5-8 p.m.

Asked what the group will do after the pop-up ends, Vittner said the artists will play that by ear and signaled they'd consider a permanent space if the conditions are ideal.

"We consider this an experiment and are open to a permanent space if the location, price, etc., feel right," she said.

Though Vittner was not at the new space on Sunday, she told Mainebiz on Monday that the gallery was busy all day, "and we sold lots of paintings."

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