Yael Reinharz, executive director of the Surf Point Foundation, is working to establish an artists' colony at the 46-acre oceanfront York property left behind by the late arts patron Mary-Leigh Smart. Credit: Gilliam Laub photo courtesy of The York Weekly

YORK, Maine — The late art patron Mary-Leigh Smart and artist Beverly Hallam had a vision. Upon their passing, they wanted to see Surf Point, Smart’s 46-acre oceanfront property, transformed into a residency for visual artists and writers. And work is now well underway to convert that vision into reality.

The Surf Point Foundation was created by Smart in 1988, with the goal of establishing the residency program. Since her passing last year, the details — and there are many — of executing her vision fall to a board of directors that Smart hand-picked during her lifetime and executive director Yael Reinharz, hired last March as an important step in bringing Surf Point to reality.

The board includes family members David Linney, Smart’s cousin, and his wife Rebecca of York, and cousins Mary Elizabeth Taylor and Deborah Taylor of New York City, a university administrator and architect, respectively. From the art world is chairwoman Katharine Watson, former director of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art; Boston architect and Mass College of Art department chair Margaret Hickey; Wellesley College’s Davis Museum director Lisa Fischman; and Marc Gotlieb, director of the masters program in art history at Williams College.

“This is a distinguished board. They are a tremendous asset to the foundation — really a fantastic group of family members and professionals in the field of art,” said Reinharz. Reinharz, a Bowdoin College graduate, had previously served as executive director of Artis, a nonprofit organization devoted to supporting contemporary Israeli artists internationally.

Reinharz said she and the board are now working on the myriad pieces of the puzzle to convert what was a private property into an artists’ residency — “how to put the vision into effect.” Smart’s property includes two homes — her own, a duplex where she and Hallam lived and Hallam had her studio; and Wild Knoll, a colonial revival house where poet May Sarton lived during the later years of her life. The buildings are surrounded by open fields that were placed by Smart in conservation easement managed by the York Land Trust.

“What this means is that this land is preserved in perpetuity, which is part of Mary-Leigh’s vision. The land is of central importance and was intended to be an important part of the ethos of the place,” said Reinharz. “Understanding the land is informing what the foundation is.”

Credit: Beverly Hallam photo courtesy of The York Weekly

And who will be invited to participate in the program? That’s another key consideration. Smart wanted to attract visual artists, art critics and authors who write about art, perhaps curators. “What is very clear to us is that her vision needs to be respected, but she had an understanding that things evolve. And she didn’t want to lock everything in place that would hamper the board from keeping up with the times.”

For instance, said Reinharz, performance art had not been recognized in the art world as art until more recently. “Now museums can acquire a performance.” She also said artists work differently today than they ever did before. Some work online, and in fact Hallam’s last body of work before she passed away in 2013 was created on the computer. When the incorporating documents were drafted in 1988, the internet was in its infancy, said Reinherz.

Also, today, the business of art, the marketing of art, “is a much bigger part of the art world, like it or not.” At Artis, she worked on the professional development of artists. “I am interested in artists creating successful, sustainable, one-artist businesses. And an artist in residency can be part of that, part of the offering.”

She and the board are setting up not only the parameters for the kind of artists, but also for the day to day operation of the residency program itself.

“Right now we’re in the nitty gritty part of the technicalities of what we are so lucky to have inherited and how we can best set it up,” she said. “We are defining how we want to set up the application process, the nominating process, the jury, the seasons people are there. Is it thematic? How many people? All of these kinds of questions will be informed by a lot of research.”

She said another important consideration for everyone involved is the way in which Surf Point interacts with the community of York. “We want to be thoughtful about York. How can we be collaborative? How can we develop partnerships? I know Mary-Leigh and Beverly had a great sense of humor and joy. That’s important to keep in mind, too.”

They also want to be sensitive to the Eastern Point neighborhood where Surf Point is located. “We want to be extremely respectful of the neighborhood. We’re not in a rush because we really want to do things right,” she said.

Reinharz said there will be plenty of opportunity for the public to become involved in Surf Point, as plans continue to make the artists’ colony a reality. Fundraisers will be planned in the time to come, which is “one way to be involved that will be most welcomed.” And there will be other volunteer opportunities as time goes on. People who knew Smart and Hallam are also simply invited to share their thoughts and memories.

Reinherz said anyone interested in learning more — from residents, to artists, to potential supporters, to the simply curious — is invited to email the foundation at info@surfpointfoundation.org and get on the email list. “So when we start with the email blasts, we want to make sure to be in touch and have ways for people to be involved,” she said.

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