The Annual ArtPM Show at Buoy Gallery in Kittery, Maine, is a celebration of art and artists where everything goes.
Alex Mead has an eye for everything. The 38-year-old Kittery Point, Maine, native has long been a part of the food, art, and music scene in the southern Maine and New Hampshire Seacoast area, and he knows what he likes. He and a “small band of compatriots” opened Buoy Gallery in 2009 in the downtown Foreside area of Kittery, Maine, when the spark for the town’s food and culture renaissance was just beginning to ignite. The gallery, which started as a space for music as well as art, “came together out of a lack,” he says. “Something that was missing.”
Mead says he gravitates toward “people who are doing really cool things—according to me. And who are really passionate and have a sense of a room like Buoy.” He often finds music and artwork he’s excited about through people he knows, and he tries to create a gallery he’d like to go to. “I’m going to see it every day, so it’s often the work that I want to spend time looking at.”
Buoy’s annual ArtPM exhibit, an open call to artists (and non-artists) to create and submit one piece of artwork in the month of February, is perhaps the gallery’s best-known event. The first show came about in 2010 when Maine artist Jocelyn Toffic—along with “culturalist” Tristan Law and The Sound Executive Editor Chloe Kanner—were inspired by the RPM Challenge (started in 2006 by Portsmouth, New Hampshire-based newspaper The Wire). But where that challenge was about creating an original album of music in the month of February, Buoy’s challenge is focused on creating art. “The challenge is to really sink into a piece and hope it works for you,” Mead says. “Or to figure out which of the 700 pieces you made you like best.” Most of the art is for sale, for a 50/50 split with the gallery.
Mead and Toffic never know how many pieces they’ll receive in a given year. “I’ve always thought that it should be floor-to-ceiling,” he says. “This year I had enough work, at around 200 pieces, that I knew it could happen. I treat it like one big collage—a room full of artwork by a community.” People from all around the Seacoast participate, with some entries coming by mail from farther away.
Art drop-off day is always a bit of a surprise. One year an artist created a giant pork chop, “complete with the Styrofoam sled and pork water and shrink wrap,” Mead recalls. He’s found a way to display everything from a giant totem pole one year to guinea-pig performance art (Toffic’s submission) another.
This year’s ArtPM opening night on March 17th was characteristically packed with locals of varying ages. People meandered, drinks in hand, amid the human head-sized rabbit face masks, various sculptures, large abstract paintings, and detailed figurative portraits. “I think a good gallery has a focus, but you don’t have to have a focus,” Mead says. “Seriously, there’s nothing I’m not into.”