Maine town undergoes transformation thanks to artistic visionaries

    The Libra Foundation is investing $10-million in the town of Monson, renovating buildings and spearheading a program known as "Monson Arts." (WGME)

    MONSON (WGME) -- A Maine town is undergoing a transformation, thanks to the Libra Foundation and a community of artistic visionaries.

    The foundation is investing $10-million in the town of Monson, renovating buildings and spearheading a program known as "Monson Arts."

    It is peaceful, pristine, and for some, the last place to stock up before venturing out into the 100 mile wilderness.

    Once a thriving community anchored by Moosehead Manufacturing Company, Monson, Maine had seen better days.

    "It really had begun to kind of run down like a lot of other little towns around here,” Monson Arts artist Alan Bray said.

    But Monson is experiencing a resurgence.

    You can see it reflected in the shiny copper roof downtown and hear it in the pleasant chatter over a fine meal at the new "Quarry" restaurant.

    Bray is among the forward-thinking members of Maine’s creative community that helped convince the Libra Foundation to invest in Monson.

    “I think it's a very bold initiative for them to take,” Bray said.

    Over the past year, the Libra Foundation has been restoring and renovating buildings in town, turning the former elementary school into an arts center.

    And for the first time, offering a residency to groups of artists and writers.

    “Two one month residencies and the artists get room and board. They get to eat three meals a day, great place to stay and they get their own studio space,” Maine's poet laureate and advisor Stuart Kestenbaum said.

    They also receive a stipend of $1,000 to offset expenses.

    But the artists say the real value is the opportunity to create without distraction.

    "It's always great to be able to come to an opportunity and focus exclusively on your work kind of outside of everyday life,” sculptor Anika Cartterfield said.

    “It gives you time to really get into your work,” writer and filmmaker Asata Radcliffe said.

    "I've come up here to at long last finally finish the book I’ve been working on,” writer Elizabeth Peavey said.

    Artists are being given the time and space to create, but there is a bigger picture at play.

    While the residencies are temporary, the foundation hopes the interest they generate will be a catalyst for growth in the small town.

    “I think you can see that possibility when you see people that are like you in a place. And I think that really is where you can get, not a surface growth, but one where people really become rooted in a place. So I think that in a way would be the most profound consequence,” Kestenbaum said.

    So, while hikers have plenty to choose from now in the new general store, Monson is hoping to become less of a stop along the way and more of a community where people want to stay awhile Just like Bray remembers it.

    "My two brothers and myself moved here with my father as a single parent when I was 10-years-old and this town raised us. This town saved us, I think,” Bray said.

    Now it's Monson's turn, to be saved.

    The Libra Foundation is also investing in Dover-Foxcroft. They’re hoping this "jumpstart" will help attract long-term investments in both towns.

    The first group of artists just finished their residencies in Monson. The second group arrives soon.

    Monson Arts also plans to hold year-round workshops and educational events.

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