Community focus at Oak Street Lofts show for First Friday Art Walk

It’s the first Friday of the month, which means the art gallery at Oak Street Lofts in Portland is open to the public tonight for First Friday Art Walk. This month, we’re featuring the artwork made by children at several of our properties, including Pearl Place I and II in Portland and North Street in Westbrook.

We held several art-making events at the properties, where we asked children to create art on the theme of what community means to them. The children made collages, paintings and drawings depicting some familiar community landmarks, like Deering Oaks Park and Reiche Community School, as well as their families, friends and neighborhoods.

The children’s work is juxtaposed with art made by residents of the Marshwood Center, a skilled nursing facility in Lewiston. Their work debuted last month, and several of the artists came to Portland for the opening on June 7. Their excitement at seeing their work hanging in a gallery was evident as they studied the walls of framed paintings, and their family members were there to share in the excitement as well.

The show, entitled “Late Works,” is the result of a unique partnership between the center and Oak Street Lofts. Since April, the Marshwood Center has been holding weekly painting classes run by Jeannine, the center’s housekeeper and a lifelong painter. Angela Mastrella, recreation director at the Marshwood Center, said the classes have had a positive impact on residents and provided a creative outlet for those who thought their painting days were behind them. You can read more about the program in the Sun Journal.

Michelle, a resident at Oak Street Lofts, happened to see the artwork on display in the center when she was there visiting her grandmother. She approached the center about a gallery showing and served as curator. Michelle joined the residents at the opening in June, lifting a glass of sparkling cider to toast to their accomplishments.

Some of the work made by the Marshwood residents will be on display tonight as well, so if you missed it last month, you still have a chance to see it.

photo (10)Michelle, herself a potter, has more than one connection to tonight’s show. She also volunteered her time with the children to help them produce their artwork.

Including an art gallery in Oak Street Lofts was a first for Avesta. Since the building opened in January 2012, about 30 artists have shown their work there. The gallery space is booked through November, and some months in 2014 are also reserved.

We’ve been happy to see the residents so excited to use the gallery, and we’re pleased to see such interesting collaborations evolve. These kinds of connections are what communities are built on — and as the children’s artwork demonstrates, community is pretty powerful, no matter how you interpret it.

Stop by 72 Oak Street from 5-8 p.m. tonight to see the show.

By Mindy Woerter, Communications Manager

Shining a light on affordable housing

A welcome mat

Welcome to The Porch Light, Avesta Housing’s blog. We hope to use this blog as a platform to share information about our work, the industry we work in and the people we serve.

Avesta has been around for more than 40 years and seen lots of change in affordable housing. In the 1970s, we were developing garden-style housing on acres of land in pastoral settings. These days, we’re rehabbing historic school buildings and turning empty urban lots into energy-efficient housing. This progression is evident as you peruse our wall of photos in our Portland office.

This shift reflects changing Maine’s demographic and their needs. More people are moving to urban areas, where they can access public transportation, public services and other amenities. Living where the jobs are is crucial for households that are seeing expenses like gas and food eat up a greater chunk of their monthly budgets.

What hasn’t changed, however, is the need for what we provide. In fact, the need is greater than ever. In Maine, the hourly wage needed to afford a two-bedroom apartment at fair-market rent is $15.10, but the mean hourly wage among renters is just $9.82. That means thousands of Maine households are struggling to find affordable housing or are paying more than 50% of their income on housing. Our waiting list for affordable apartments is 2,200 people long, but in 2013 we anticipate having just 400 openings.

Meanwhile, budget uncertainties at both the state and national level imperil the programs and services that help low-income people find safe, affordable places to live.

As the economic and political landscapes change, we wanted to find new ways to talk about what we do and, more importantly, why we do it. This blog is one of those ways.

Why The Porch Light?

The name to us evokes that warm, safe feeling of home – a porch light left on to greet you and to welcome your neighbors. It’s a simple comfort, but one that’s impossible to take for granted if you’ve ever wondered where you might sleep that night. We’ll use this space to shine a light (it’s also a metaphor!) on the importance of housing security and the people impacted by it.

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By Mindy Woerter, Communications Manager