The singular idea that would eventually root itself as Central Gallery, was born from the rather simple recognition that all these creatives deserved a home.
In the early days of Launchpad’s existence, the organization was mostly known for a series of pop-up gallery and performance events organized in vacant storefronts and spaces around Downtown Bangor. This relative newcomer to the non-profit arts scene was in search of its first full-time project to better define itself. With a mission to use the arts to develop communities across Maine, Launchpad was formed with the appropriate combination of grittiness and ambition that embodied the spirit of the downtown at the time, attracting artists, musicians and creatives whose work had been defining the community uncredited for years. The singular idea that would eventually root itself as Central Gallery, was born from the rather simple recognition that all these creatives deserved a home. The idea belonged to a 30-year old bartender, who had twice unsuccessfully run for City Council and who had the sum total of zero years, zero days and zero hours running an arts space, a music venue or gallery; Launchpad’s Executive Director and co-founder, Meg Shorette.
In February of 2014, Meg quietly and deliberately began the process of locating a downtown property to convert into a mixed-use arts space. With no money and a wealth of persistence, the first opportunity presented itself when the then Downtown Coordinator for the City of Bangor and Downtown Bangor Partnership, Jason Bird, connected Meg with a building owner of a vacant space on Central Street that had previously housed a pawn shop. Hoping for something more turn key, Launchpad board members balked at the dilapidated space and the location, set back from the other bars and restaurants that drew people into downtown. Meg however, saw an opportunity.
I. “Does she know something?”
Meg Shorette, Launchpad Executive Director: Back when we looked at the space the front windows had been blocked by weatherizing materials and panels for so long… It looked awful and the inside was not in good shape. I remember [the board member] I had with me made a gagging noise when we all went across the street to see it.
Joshua Gass, Board Member: I just remember it had this horrible drop ceiling when you went inside and there was remnants of some sort of shag carpeting that had been partially pulled up in places. It was pretty awful inside, and I’m looking at photos of this place and Meg is all about it and I’m thinking ‘Does she know something? What does she see that I am not seeing?’ The landlord was supportive though, and everyone seemed on board. Meg didn’t waste any time in getting the space ready.
Meg Shorette: I had been a part of organizing the KahBang Festival and had been the lead in organizing the Art Festival portion. I think KahBang is the reason I am where I am today. I felt there was something going on in Bangor creatively that needed to be harnessed. Central Gallery was really born out of a need for me to create my own project after the festival ended. The team environment from KahBang, we had all worked together and that made me hungry to surround myself with creative people and creativity. I wanted it all around me. So we got a crew and they tore up the carpet and laid down new floor, painted the walls, opened up the space.
Joshua Gass: The location was a bit weird because it was on this sort no man’s land stretch of Central Street in Downtown Bangor and the only other businesses around it all closed at like 5pm except maybe the tattoo parlor, so all the foot traffic that time of night is concentrated more toward West Market Square. After we opened it sort of changed the dynamic of the block and it ended up kind of working out in our favor because bands could be loud and nobody complained. I got a text one day while they were still renovating and it just said something like “you should see the ceiling” and I am thinking the roof probably has a leak or something like that and then I get this photo texted to me and they had lifted up the drop ceiling and the original tin ceiling was still intact above it. The space was just waiting for someone to open it back up again.
Meg Shorette: I was thinking artists. I knew we could display art in the space but we weren’t sure about music at first, so we really designed the room primarily around visual art when we opened. It was difficult, Josh would ask me how the space was going to make any revenue, and I’d just sort of evade the question. We had a sign out front that said “Free Art” and I would stand on the sidewalk and ask people to come inside to take a look and they would act like I was trying to sell them magic beans. We had some events and we would do a new art exhibit every month. There was some pretty diverse art, sculpture, fine art, we had an artist that would make this exquisite origami. Sometimes we had art with an impact and then collaborate with other causes; we had a show with this photographer that had spent years documenting homeless teens in Bangor. It felt like we did a good job having something different all the time. After a while people started to catch on to what we were doing. It didn’t take long.
II. “So this could be something…”
Joshua Gass: We opened in the spring of 2014. We had an official opening for the art exhibit and we had free beer so people came. There were some other events, we actually did have some music but it would be like a girl with a ukulele sitting cross-legged on the floor. Meg started getting inquiries from bands to play and I was dead set against it. I was thinking, who wants to be crammed in this little space and listen to bands?
Richie Russell, Drummer They Called Me Legion: I hadn’t met Meg or been at the venue until our first show at the gallery. I think Zach [Thompson] had met her previously at a bar which is how we made the connection. Somehow they got talking about bands and she mentioned she had “a venue”.
Zach Thompson, Lead Singer They Called Me Legion: That’s correct. I don’t actually remember it though, I was face down on the bar I believe. The next day I woke up and I had a friend request from her on FB and that was that.
Meg Shorette: That’s 100% accurate.
Joshua Gass: I was thinking no one was going to come to this show. Richie pulls his car up with a trailer in tow, like with all their gear inside, and people are trying to block parking spots for them. It was a little crazy.
Meg Shorette: We didn’t have a sound person, the band did it all themselves. People started to show up and the place was packed. It started slow and then it was amazing. I remember thinking ‘Okay. So this could be something…’
Richie Russell: We had a great show. I remember getting a sick parking spot outside the venue. [After the show] we hung out outside for a long time talking with people.
Zach Thompson: We weren’t really sure what to expect, but I was surprised at the turn out and how cool everyone was. We fell in love with how tight the room felt and sounded. I remember I was immediately asking Meg ‘when can we play here again?’
Meg Shorette: And when I handed them money at the end of the night they were completely shocked. After that the bands just came out of the wood work. Someone added us to a google map of ‘DIY Venues’ and I started getting inquiries from out of state bands traveling through the area. A van would pull up and a bunch of people would spill out and head across the street to the tattoo parlor or ask where to go for food, and then they would perform. You never really knew if people would show up, but we always had an audience. Anytime someone would come to a show and say they were in a band, I’d book them to play a show. If they said they were into poetry, we’d have a poetry night. Artist? They’d be the next months art opening, even if they’d never shown in a gallery before. That’s pretty much how it went.
III. “The room is the thing.”
Joshua Gass: All of a sudden there was a community developing, you’d see a lot of the same faces. People were coming up at shows asking how to volunteer. This artist, Dan Dawson, would come to shows and he asked about renting the basement, which I always found funny. It was like a cave underneath the Gallery but it had a room where he could do his screen printing, and then he became our ‘artist in residence’. Another time there was a guy drinking in the corner at a show and afterward he came up to me and he said, ‘My name is Lucas Kinney. I’m going to come back for your next show and run your sound’, and I’m like ‘whatever you say man’ and sure enough the next show this car pulls up and it’s Lucas and he loads all this sound gear inside and after that he just kept coming and running sound and so we made him our Sound Engineer.
Justin Kovacs, Bass Player Wait: Central Gallery always felt like home. We played our first show there. Whatever band was playing, whoever’s art was on the walls, it just always felt good to be there. It was our little piece of downtown.
Dan Dawson, Artist / CG “Artist in Residence”: Central Gallery gave me my first ever exhibition of my work. The [basement] was somewhat surreal, almost like a movie set. You had to enter through a mostly concealed hatch in the floor of one of the back rooms of the gallery. The basement was just as you’d expect for an old New England building, uneven floors, stone, brick, and concrete walls, and all sorts of patches and amendments as each use of the building left its mark. My studio space was the only finished room down there, it had this very 70’s break room vibe with a funky slanted counter, florescent lighting, drop ceiling, wood paneling, and vinyl flooring. I would sometimes take people down there after shows, they had no idea that this space was below them the whole time.
Zeth Lundy, DJ / member of Wax On: Matt [Clark] and I got this idea for a dance party that he and I would DJ, and we would pit one artist against a similar artist. Or a genre against another genre. Prince vs. Michael Jackson. Punk vs. Disco. We’d each pick a side, spin records back and forth, get the audience pumped and also have them vote on their favorite. Matt was already DJing around town as Thermomatt, but there wasn’t a bar or club that fit with the vision. We didn’t want to do it at a traditional club, because the concept was too off the wall. And we didn’t want it to be background music. We wanted an engaged, intimate room that would be a part of the whole experience – the room is the thing. We mentioned the idea to Meg or Josh and their response was like “When are we doing this?” and it just took off from there.
Meg Shorette: We had all sorts of stuff going on, its all kind of a blur now. It was such a funny collection of people coming together. We had this metal Halloween show and everyone came in costume, and the fire alarm went off during one of the sets so everyone piles out on to the sidewalk. I can still see the expressions on the faces of the Firemen as they pulled up with all these sweaty hardcore kids in costume waiting for the all clear to go back inside the venue.
Zeth Lundy: We did Madonna vs. Janet Jackson and it was a hot June night. People dressed up in throwback ’80s garb. The place was so packed, and I had found a treasure trove of Madonna 12″ remixes the week before. People had to keep going outside to take a breath, grab some fresh air, let the sweat cool off. All the windows were fogged up you couldn’t see through them out to the street.
Joshua Gass: I’m not sure how many bands and musicians played there, how many artists showed their work, I think we had a diagram of it at one point. Sometimes a show would be like 4 or 5 bands playing. Over a few years it had to be over a hundred total artists and musicians. It’s interesting because it was just this blank sterile room when you took all the art and the people out of it. It was very unique among all of Launchpad’s projects because we only really provided the space, it was the hundreds of people who came into the space that created all that character. Looking back on it now, we should have found a way to hold on to that room. We were moving into a bigger space in the Bangor Arts Exchange, but I wish we could have held on to it. Honestly BAE was only really possible because we had learned so much from running Central Gallery. In some ways maybe its good it ended when it did, it kind of makes it more special.
Meg Shorette: Eventually the opportunity came my way to book for Port City Music Hall in Portland and soon after that we had the opportunity to open the Bangor Arts Exchange and we felt that was the natural progression. That space was such a part of me for so long. It’s hard not to get emotional and I miss it still.
In August of 2017 Central Gallery quietly closed it doors as Launchpad moved operations to the Bangor Arts Exchange which would open the following month. The new, larger, venue with multiple rooms and rehearsal studios was a chance for the organization to grow, but would forever stand on the shoulders of the tiny room on Central street.
Launchpad is a 501(c)(3) non-profit arts incubator founded in Bangor in the fall of 2014 with a mission to collaborate with artists, arts organizations and communities in developing creative places in Maine. It’s current projects include the Bangor Arts Exchange, All Roads Music Festival, and the Live from The Grand! music series. You can donate here to support Launchpad’s mission.