Last month I’d been invited to a launch party event that called themselves The Collective and honestly, because The Farnsworth was hosting it, I expected it to be a nice, sort of older networky crowd (that’s not a real word, but you know what I mean). I expected Talbots jackets, light jazz, canapés, discussions about people’s kids in college. Home by 9 p.m.
Instead, I drove to a place I’d never even heard of: The Bicknell Building down by Lime Street in Rockland. A dead-end street with a darkened warehouse. Not a place you associate with high-end cocktail parties, more like some back alley meeting place for dubious exchanges.
The entry way was extremely dim; I could hear experimental electronica spilling out from the main room. Entering the anteroom of what used to be a 3,200-foot manufacturing plant for drill bits, I was drawn to the distressed and dirty brick walls spotlit with a giant art installation of what looked like a hanging mobile of paper kites in the corner. Other wood-slatted walls were grimed with years of hard use and stripped paint, while in one corner of the warehouse, bartender Mike Bumiller poured cups of beer and wine courtesy of Café Miranda, Central Distributors and Breakwater Vineyards.
Immediately I thought of Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update Correspondent, “Stefon.” I imagined him describing it as “the hottest new nightclub in Rockland where the ridiculously bizarre happenings include food displays that incorporate fur, freaky 20-somethings, Occupy Mainers who haven’t had a bath in a week, grown men playing jump rope, and Germfs (German Smurfs). And don’t forget DJ Baby Owen, who wears welders’ gloves and spins records with voice-activated commands.”
The sheer funkitude of this evening took nearly a year of brainstorming and hard work to pull off. The Collective, whose purpose exists to attract a younger, contemporary audience to Farnsworth Museum, had to take some risks. First, it had to break with its traditional, and somewhat staid image and allow honest input from a brainstorming session of young professionals and artists in the area.
From that diverse group The Collective formed a steering committee, including four people on Farnsworth staff. Necole Dabrio, special events and volunteer manager and one of the leading members of The Collective, said the entire team spent nearly two months to plan this launch party.
“This was going to be the one that kicked off a year of educational and fun events for the public in tandem with a Farnsworth event,” she said.
The staff at the Farnsworth were largely responsible for discovering the Bicknell Building’s new use. It took two weeks of sweeping, cleaning and using a dry-vacuum in the main areas and two days to clean up after the event. Because of The Collective’s hard work, they’ve now put the warehouse space on the map as an alternative event setting for bands and other organizations wishing for a spacious, hip place to entertain.
Another risk, which paid off, was to showcase art installations by independent artists not already associated with the Farnsworth collection. Certain pieces were chosen for their ability to add to the overall atmosphere of the launch party. The focal piece included Live Feed, a round table with an abundant, sumptuous display of cooked lobsters, cheeses, crackers and aspic surrounded by fur, gnarly gourds and old metal serving dishes. The artist, Colin Sullivan-Stevens, modeled the live edible display after a 17th-Century still life. At first, people milled around the table not sure if it was meant to be culinary art or a cornocopia to be sampled. (The lack of napkins, plates and utensils on the table added to its mystery.) But, soon a few cheese knives were employed, tentative fingers explored the offerings and people were digging into the lobsters like Daryl Hannah in Splash. The live video feed that projected the table onto the ceiling caught every moment of what was deliberately set out to be interactive art.
Other notable art installations included Bethany Engstrom’s “door”— an exterior door set into the wall of the warehouse with a doorbell. Putting one’s ear up to the door, you got a voyeuristic sense through the pre-recorded audio that there were people on the other side and they were having an exuberant conversation. Robin Mandel had two pieces at the event–Suitcase, 2007 (an array of mirrors projecting images onto the wall) and Aurora, 2010 (wine bottles circulating projecting colored light onto the white wall). Abigail Stiers contributed the piece that projected words onto the wall using a self-styled computer program to spit out the words of a poem at different rates of speed, which were triggered by the wind flowing through the nearby windows.
While people mingled and sampled bites from multiple Midcoast restaurants and eateries including Café Miranda, Lily Bistro, In Good Company, The Maine Cupcake Company, Trillium Caterers, and Sweets and Meats, multiple party goers were overheard saying they felt they’d been somehow transported into a NYC nightclub. DJ Owen Cartwright, of the Vistas, rounded out the event with a highly danceable set until midnight.
Finally, the smartest move to entice a younger (or young-at-heart) crowd had to have been the $5 cover. Many times, big Midcoast public events with donated wine/beer, art and music, require an entry fee of $50 to $100. That attracts an entirely different crowd, but The Collective was going for something refreshingly different here: The underground.
“Reponse has been huge,” said Dabrio. “People were coming up to me saying it was the best party Rockland has seen in years. We accomplished exactly what we wanted to do — engaging that younger community. I hope that our other parties will continue to attract that crowd, because that will be the challenge.”
Coming up will be three after-party events for Rockland Shorts: An International Short Film Series, an international art film short series hosted by the Farnsworth museum on Friday, Feb. 3. For more information on how to be part of The Collective or when they’ll appear next, visit facebook.com/farnsworthcollective
The Killer Convo
This blog is a is a killer roundup of all arts, entertainment, brewery & distillery, food trucks, happy hour happenings in the Midcoast Maine. Feel free to email me anything about Midcoast arts, entertainment & the creative economy.