The Mayo Street Arts building has a long history of artistic and social activism. Built as St. Ansgar Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1898, the original congregation resided at the church until 1954, when the church merged with Immanuel Lutheran to build a new church on Woodford Street in Portland. Interesting to note that in 1907, the membership of St. Ansgar was 250 people. Today Mayo Street Arts has a membership of 332 and our goal is to continue to grow this in coming years!
The Neighborhood has historically provided a home to a large immigrant population of Irish, Scandinavians, and Italians in the late 19th century and during the early 20th century over 250 Armenians settled there. More recently East Bayside has become home to new immigrants including Cambodians, Vietnamese and most recently Sudanese, Somalis, and Iraqis.
After the original Lutheran congregation departed the building, it was home to groups such as the Jehovas Witnesses, A Company of Girls (theater group for youth), East End Children’s Workshop, PROP (People’s Regional Opportunity Program), and The New School Workshop.
In the 1960’s, a large part of the old neighborhood was razed for a large public housing project known as Kennedy Park. The project was successful in providing low-income housing, but it became known as a rough and dangerous area from the 70’s through the 90’s. Kennedy Park has since become a destination for an extremely diverse immigrant and refugee population.
Today, MSA and Kennedy Park are situated in East Bayside – the most ethnically diverse, densely populated square mile in the state of Maine. The East Bayside neighborhood is bound on the west by Franklin Avenue, on the east by Washington Avenue, on the north by Marginal Way and on the southern side by Congress Street.
Mayo Street Arts serves East Bayside and greater Portland well through a yearly schedule of music, theater, puppetry, dance, and visual arts. It hosts a regular International Open Mic that draws multicultural performers from the neighborhood, and is a venue where immigrant artists and neighbors feel a strong connection.
MSA is also known for its connection to Puppet Theater and is a member of the International Union of Marionnettes (UNIMA) and is regularly featured on the Jim Henson Foundation ‘Puppet Happenings’ website. It plays an important role in educating about and celebrating the unique heritage of world puppetry.
Mayo Street Arts was founded in 2009 by two artists and visionaries who built artists’ studios, and began hosting music and art events. That couple is Blainor McGough and Brian Arlet, and today the center presents over 200 artistic and musical events each year.
In 2013, Cherie Wendelken, Jeb Brooks, and the Brooks Family Foundation awarded a major grant to Mayo Street Arts so that the organization could purchase the building. This was a turning point for Mayo Street Arts, and the organization has worked hard to improve the building and organizational capacity ever since.
Building renovations have included a new roof, renovation of the choir loft and performance space, a new stage, an outdoor classroom, and many other facility improvements. Two murals enhance the building inside and out.
Artist Patrick Corriganwas commissioned to do the proscenium mural in the Sanctuary; he also designed MSA’s logo, and outdoor sign. The mural represents the moons of Pluto. The cats are swamp panthers and the owl, snake, and juniper represent Maine plants and animals and the sun is rising behind the juniper bush over the sea as it does at Cadillac Mountain in Maine at dawn.
The new mural on the outside of the building was painted in 2020 by artist Alexis Iammarino, who specializes in public art through collaboration and has created several community based murals with youth and adults in Midcoast Maine. The mural is connected to MSA’s Accessibility Project which aims to make the building accessible to all with improved physical, language, cultural and economic access.