Should you eventually find yourself walking through downtown Rockland in (hopefully) ever-increasing temperatures, keep an eye out for the new Studio 9 sign going up on the Thorndike building. The Art Loft and Knox County Art Society have merged, with the new entity flying under the KCAS flag.

“It’s spring, it’s about renewal, a new beginning,” said KCAS President David Blanchard about the name switch to reflect the changes happening at 385 Main St., Suite 9.

He’s excited to have an established space that is furnished and made to be multipurpose — for meetings, artwork display, classes and studio time.

“It will be completely different, but this has given us an immense new opportunity,” Blanchard said. “We’re testing the waters right now on what we have to offer, and if we have enough interest to sustain participation.”

Boiled down, the new Studio 9 will mainly feature a full program of instruction at the intermediate level. “The audience we’re trying to meet is people who took art courses in college, got distracted by life and now want to return to what gave them pleasure,” he said. “People who have some experience and want to develop as artists.”

“There is no such thing as a bad artist. Everyone is in a different spot,” he said. “It’s all good — it comes from inside of them, who they are as people.”

Blanchard believes the seed of the art society was planted and nourished by the Art Loft. The fusion is a natural progression of a good idea. “What happened is that (the Art Loft founders) noticed KCAS’ success and saw what a great combination and opportunity it would be to make the two stronger.”

This month marks the first anniversary of the society receiving its inaugural membership check. Today there are 81 members. “I am as amazed as anybody — it just proves the desire, the demand and the need is there,” Blanchard said.

Blanchard was named executive director of the Art Loft in January, which was perfect fit considering his extensive background in heading up nonprofits. “It became clear that running two organizations was not feasible,” Blanchard said. “There was a wisdom to merging.”

KCAS members have been enjoying many activities, including plein air painting, urban sketching, group critiques, summer soireés, monthly potlucks and quarterly meetings with presentations by VIP artists. Now the society can settle into a place of its own and add sharing its expertise through instructional programming.

“We amended our mission statement, we broadened it to include the Art Loft’s. Art opportunities for everybody — regardless of finance, artistic ability or age,” Blanchard said. “We carry (that vision) forward.” It’s all about enhancing the cultural life of the community and supporting visual artists.

KCAS wants to keep the bar for participation low by offering programs at the introductory and intermediate level that are low-cost and no cost. One example is the figure/portrait drawing. “By sharing the cost (of the model), we can afford to do things as a group that as individuals you just couldn’t,” Blanchard said. “We have top notch professionals who come from all over. They all love the vibe of our group, the relaxed atmosphere.”

A smorgasbord of public programs and exhibitions begin this spring — 19 courses in all. Planning has also begun for the continuation of a collaboration with the State Prison system, whereby art teachers go into the local prison to teach art to prisoners, and prisoners get to show their work in public. KCAS also will designate times when any resident of Knox County can use the art studio for free.

“This really threw a monkey wrench (into KCAS’s plan to not have any overhead),” Blanchard said. The greatest challenge is the carrying costs, such as rent. Kathryn Matlack, Art Loft co-founder and principal donor, pledged to continue substantial support until at least 2024. And while it won’t be sufficient in the long run, there has been broad-based support from both the business community and among artists who are “committed and enthusiastic volunteers,” he said.

The price of a basic membership is an average of $5 and 1.5 hours of volunteering per month. Using a co-op model, members both create and participate in programs. Anyone can join. Members elect the board; the board appoints an executive director, who meets regularly with an advisory group.

“The participants show art, they teach classes, they take classes,” Blanchard said. “Everyone helps, this is truly grassroots.”

With current members of the KCAS taking on volunteer roles at Studio 9, that means 120 hours of coverage. Board members are Paula Apro, Ken Foster, Ann O’Hara, Holly Smith and Marianne W. Smith.

Carmel Donoghue of Camden is the volunteer who will be coordinating volunteers. “She’ll be the center of the hurricane,” Blanchard said.

The plan is to staff the gallery with volunteers from Tuesdays through Saturdays from noon to 2 p.m. throughout the spring and summer.

“We have 40 linear feet. It’s perfect for gallery display space,” Blanchard said, and assures that Studio 9 will be on the list for First Friday Art Walks throughout the summer. In addition to an instructor’s show, exhibition plans are for a Spring Renewal show (May), an All-KCAS show (June and July), a show in Cushing (part of the historical society's "Art-in-the-Barn" program) on a June weekend, a tent show during the Camden Harbor Art & Book Fair on a July weekend and a Maritime show (August).

The scheduled March 22 grand opening to check out Studio 9 has been put on the back burner amid coronavirus concerns until the end of April. Still, the plan is for instructor artwork to grace the walls and refreshments to be served. The event will be open to the public, so watch for a new date and put on those walking shoes.

KCAS/Studio 9 is a 501 (c) (3) organization, so gifts qualify as charitable contribution with the IRS. To support the group and learn more about its offerings, visit