University of New England (UNE) Portland and Biddeford

MAJ’s Christine Sullivan recently caught up with Hilary Irons, the recently-appointed UNE Gallery & Exhibitions Manager.  For the past three years, Hilary has been co-curator of Able Baker Contemporary in Portland. She founded the artist-run space next to Portland Stage with Stephen Benenson in 2016. Hilary will continue her affiliation with Able Baker Contemporary in an advisory role. She also maintains studio and exhibition practice as a painter, with a studio in the SPACE Studios building.

UNE is a private university with a focus on the sciences, based in Maine and Morocco. UNE’s unique gallery system includes a stand-alone space—designed by Thomas Larson and built by the Architects Collaborative in 1977—on UNE’s Westbrook College Campus in Portland, and a custom gallery space, completed in 2014, set into the Ketchum Library on UNE’s Biddeford campus. While the Portland gallery space is modern and free-standing, the gallery at the main campus in Biddeford, designed in 2014, is housed in the Ketchum Library, which promotes a unique and beneficially intimate relationship for the students there.

Since UNE is a new appointment/opportunity for Hilary, she has a particular interest in opening up contemporary conversations with youth that are relevant to the shows slated for 2019/2020. Her ongoing intention is to feature some of UNE’s curricular strengths as a voice in the gallery.

irons Focus on UNE Bidd Gallery une org copy

University of New England Biddeford Gallery

Hilary states, “I will present a content-based exhibition program focusing on thematic group shows. An important starting point will be the institutional strengths and interests of UNE (emphasizing earth, environmental, and social sciences; medicine; education; arts; and humanities, with the mission of promoting intellectual curiosity in order to work toward a healthier community and planet), in conversation with strong, relevant contemporary art across disciplines. My aim is to promote a broad, diverse, and thought-provoking range of perspectives within the specific context of each exhibition.”


The Spring of 2020 exhibit will feature a look at medicine and the art of anatomical drawings, featuring artists who illustrate the body. In light of UNE’s distinguished Social Work Arts Therapy curriculum, Hilary mentioned that the current exhibit in Portland, The Art of the Comic (curated by Amanda Skinner) features ‘zine and comic work, both by former students and clients of the School of Social Work.  This show is on view until October 6, and will be followed by The Complete City, organized by local architects and featuring imaginative maps of Portland. The Complete City opens on Saturday, October 26.

As incoming curator, Hilary Irons hopes to encourage wide-ranging collaboration with the New England arts community (and beyond). Feel free to reach out to her with any ideas, comments, or updates you may have; her work at UNE will be involved, collaborative, and welcoming of curatorial proposals. Proposal forms for exhibitions will be available soon on the gallery website or email Hilary. (details below). Hilary asks that you please keep UNE in mind with any ideas that may thematically integrate contemporary visual art with the sciences (or the liberal arts); the connection can range from direct to extended.

Image at top of page: University of New England Portland Gallery

Gallery and Exhibitions Manager

UNE Art Gallery, Portland Campus

UNE Ketchum Library Art Gallery, Biddeford Campus

University of New England Library Services | 207-221-4499 (office) | 603-953-3356 (mobile)

In Focus is a column which showcases art education institutions from around Maine. Pitch us an idea about your institution. It might be a recent or upcoming show, a faculty member or artist in residence, a student who is doing interesting things, an exciting visual art activity or curricula, how to conduct a critique, etc.