The non-profit organization Spindleworks gives 48 local artists with disabilities the tools they need to succeed in Brunswick’s creative community.
Located on Lincoln Street, Spindleworks is a studio and gallery for these artists and their creations.
At Spindleworks, a staff of seven professional “artist mentors” helps participants develop their artistic skills in a variety of media including writing, painting, drawing, pottery, sculpture, animation, filmmaking and musical theater. The center also provides artists with the opportunity to display and sell their work in local shows. Several Bowdoin students volunteer each year.
“I like to be in every show because it helps me,” said artist Kim Christensen. “Because people will get to know who I am, what kind of work I do … People will say ‘I bought your tea towels. I bought your paintings from a show.’ They’ll know who you are. It’s good to get out in the community … because yes, I have a disability. Yes, I’m a good artist. And people love coming here because they say, “Wow, … your people can do beautiful artwork.”
Spindleworks supports artists of ages 18 to 80, some of whom have been members for as many as 30 years.
“There’s something about watching the process of people grow over time, and it can be a slow change,” said Associate Director Brian Braley. “They may start out not being comfortable … and wanting to erase everything that they try to draw. But after a few months … when somebody sells their first work of art, just to watch their smile and how that affects them is really incredible.”
Braley said that Spindleworks strives to empower its artists.
“I think when you can turn what their entire life they’ve thought [of] as their defect, what their disability is, when you can turn that into their strength, and when they realize that those things that they struggle with actually are what make them stronger or make them unique, I think that transformative value is really powerful,” said Braley.
Christensen said she feels at home at Spindleworks, where she has been a member since 2006.
“[Spindleworks is a place where] you can do your artwork, be who you are and … be an adult with a disability,” said Christensen. “That’s nice. Some states don’t have [this kind of program]. And I think it’s wonderful Maine has it.”
However, the maintenance of such an organization presents certain challenges.
“We’re serving more artists now than we did when I first started, and there’s constantly a threat of funding cuts in some way,” said Braley. “We’re funded primarily through the state and so I think we’ve really focused on trying to find new ways of expanding revenue so that we can continue the program. My long-term goals are just thinking about sustainability and making sure that this program is around 10 years from now.”
According to Braley, there is still work to be done regarding the full acceptance of artists with disabilities in Brunswick.
“I would like them to be considered and valued for their professional abilities as artists,” said Braley. “I think Brunswick has always generally been an accepting community, but I don’t think that we’re at a point where the work here artistically is valued the same.”
Liz McGhee ’89 started working at Spindleworks in 2002, where she served as a program director for more than 13 years.
“I think that having that role there, for which I was completely unprepared, but enjoyed anyways, was probably the highlight of my career,” said McGhee in a phone interview with the Orient. “I think nothing will be able to compare with my time at Spindleworks, and I still think of it as my home and my family.”
McGhee said she regrets that she did not discover the organization until after she had graduated from Bowdoin.
“It was astonishing to me that, as a Bowdoin student in the art department, I had no knowledge of this program that existed,” said McGhee. “I hope that more students will come down the hill and not make the mistake that I made by sitting atop because there’s so much going on at Spindleworks.”
Today, Spindleworks welcomes both visitors to the gallery and volunteers to the studio.
“[There are] so many ways that somebody could play a role there,” said McGhee. “Some of my most loyal volunteers were not art students. They were people that just cared about people and wanted to be a part of what was going on.”
This summer, Spindleworks will be hosting a show at Frontier Cafe called the “Extinction Event,” celebrating the diverse species of the planet. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Maine Audubon Society.
The Spindleworks gallery and store are open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The artists enjoy discussing their work with visitors and are on site from Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and on Friday until 1 p.m.