One of four Maine women who are making space for performers, artists, storytellers and filmmakers.
Ackerman’s first taste of Biddeford was in 2004 when she shopped at Reny’s on Main Street during a quick stop on a circuitous cross-country camping trip. The abandoned mills and empty storefronts were weighing down the city, but Ackerman saw potential. By 2006, she relocated after purchasing the former Textile Mill Workers Union hall around the corner from Palace Diner, Doc’s Tavern and George’s Sandwich Shop.
As part of the renovations, Ackerman painted the exterior a vibrant orange, which became the signature of Franklin Street Artspace. Ackerman says, “It was an interesting time as a new contemporary gallery space adjacent to some really local establishments.”
Ackerman dove in to Biddeford’s revitalization efforts by joining the then-newly formed Heart of Biddeford. She watched as various efforts were made to foster the creative community, but realized in 2008 she had to make it happen. Ackerman co-founded Engine in 2009 with Josh Bodwell, executive director of Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. The new organization absorbed the Biddeford ArtWalk planning duties, of which Ackerman was already in charge, and facilitated Maine artist Amy Stacey Curtis’ TIME exhibition in the North Dam Mill.
Early financial support came from the Quimby Family Foundation and a $50,000 grant from the Maine Arts Commission Creative Economy. The once-small art gallery has grown into a larger space with regular exhibits, a retail corner and an active offering of enrichment classes for youth and adults. The creation of a FabLab in Engine’s space introduced 3D printers to the community, which now serves as a design incubator for digital fabrication. In addition, Engine hosts concerts, storytelling nights and panel discussions addressing issues of social justice.
“We have created a space where there is a sense of community, and conversations among groups can occur for greater understanding,” says Ackerman, who looks forward to the completion of renovations to the historic Marble Block Building, the building where Ackerman shopped during her first visit to Biddeford, and the building that will ultimately house Engine.
In the meantime, Ackerman continues to work with her board of directors to create a gender, age, race and socio-economically diverse organization. She says, “I am striving to set Engine up to be an even more integral community partner for years to come.”
Engine: Propelling the Creative Community is located at 128 Main Street in Biddeford and open 1 to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday with extended hours for special events. For more information, visit feedtheengine.org.