2018-07-26 / Front Page

Former Shamrock Farm sees new life

The Guinea Road property in Biddeford will house artist residencies and rehearsal space
By Abigail Worthing
Staff Writer


Niki and Jorge Cousineau, residents of Philadelphia who summer in Ocean Park, inside the barn of their future artists retreat. The couple purchased the barn and farmhouse, formerly the home of Shamrock Farm Greenhouses, with Philadelphia choreographer Scott McPheeters (not pictured), who is a Biddeford native. (Abigail Worthing photos) Niki and Jorge Cousineau, residents of Philadelphia who summer in Ocean Park, inside the barn of their future artists retreat. The couple purchased the barn and farmhouse, formerly the home of Shamrock Farm Greenhouses, with Philadelphia choreographer Scott McPheeters (not pictured), who is a Biddeford native. (Abigail Worthing photos) BIDDEFORD – Three theater professionals with Maine ties have purchased a barn in Biddeford to create a retreat for artists and performers.

The three owners, performer and choreographer Scott McPheeters, choreographer Niki Cousineau and her technical designer and husband Jorge Cousineau have collaborated for years in Philadelphia, connecting over a mutual connection to Maine. McPheeters grew up in Biddeford and Niki Cousineau’s parents have owned a home in Ocean Park for 18 years.

Opening an artist retreat and studio space in Maine had always been a dream for the trio. In 2014, when McPheeters was visiting family for Memorial Day weekend, he saw that the house and farm on Guinea Road was for sale and immediately called the Cousineaus. Niki Cousineau drove up and was as taken by the property as McPheeters.


Subcircle, a performance company based out of Philadelphia, will soon begin construction to turn this barn at 97 Guinea Road in Biddeford into rehearsal spaces for its artist retreat. The project will begin construction in the fall. (Abigail Worthing photo) Subcircle, a performance company based out of Philadelphia, will soon begin construction to turn this barn at 97 Guinea Road in Biddeford into rehearsal spaces for its artist retreat. The project will begin construction in the fall. (Abigail Worthing photo) “It was just perfect,” Niki Cousineau said of the 97 Guinea Road property, formerly home to Shamrock Farm Greenhouses. “Jorge didn’t even see it before we bought it. Scott and I were just running around with our cameras taking pictures, trying to show him everything.”

The trio made an offer and finalized the sale in August 2014 for $190,000. The property is assessed at $195,000. For the last three years they have rented the house year round, but this fall they will begin a new cycle of renting the house to college students during the school year and leaving the house open for visiting artists in summer.


When Scott McPheeters and the Cousineaus purchased the farm, they wanted it “as is,” and have decorated sections of the barn with found items, such as the antique speaker and pottery pictured. (Abigail Worthing photo When Scott McPheeters and the Cousineaus purchased the farm, they wanted it “as is,” and have decorated sections of the barn with found items, such as the antique speaker and pottery pictured. (Abigail Worthing photo On July 14, the trio’s nonprofit performance company Subcircle held a “Barnraiser” fundraiser at Engine in downtown Biddeford to raise money for the $40,000 renovations of the barn, which will begin in fall. Prior to the event, the 1,778-square-foot, four-bedroom and one bath farmhouse had its first taste as an artist retreat as the performers for the fundraiser stayed for the weekend.

“It was amazing to see it full of artists,” Niki Cousineau said. “One artist loved it so much she’s coming back to spend the weekend in the same room.”


One of the features that Niki Cousineau loves about the farmhouse is the view of the barn from the windows. “It’s just so beautiful and peaceful,” she said. (Abigail Worthing photo) One of the features that Niki Cousineau loves about the farmhouse is the view of the barn from the windows. “It’s just so beautiful and peaceful,” she said. (Abigail Worthing photo) The group bought the 1,472 square foot farm “as is” and has decorated some of the space with found items, including pottery, farm tools and a working antique speaker that played music at the barn open house last year. When the barn was first purchased, a new roof was installed. Now that capital has been raised, the group can begin transitioning it into a rehearsal space. The first phase of renovation will include turning the top floor into a studio space, redoing the floors and walls to be conducive with dance and movement. As for lighting, the group has a plan.

“We want to utilize the natural light, so we’re planning on using different sized windows to get as much light in as possible,” said Jorge Cousineau, who is a freelance technical designer in Philadelphia when not working with Subcircle.

The windows in the barn face the field adjacent to the farmhouse, providing an aesthetic to the space unique to the location. The farm area of the property formerly housed green houses and fields for Shamrock Farm Greenhouses.

The rest of the space will be transformed into a collection of studio spaces, with the Cousineaus speculating excitedly about the different opportunities as they walk through.

The property is in a residential zone, which means they are unable to charge for classes or performances, therefore limiting what they can offer at the farm.

“We’re still figuring out exactly what we want to do. We’re hoping to form a committee so we can work out the best strategy,” Jorge Cousineau said.

The couple discussed a myriad of different paths the space could take, from purely artist retreat to class space to performance area. The group is still in the process of deciding if they will keep the property purely residential as a retreat, or if down the line they will request from the city to change zoning in the area.

“It’s hard right now because we live in Philadelphia and just come here for the summers,” Niki Cousineau said.

“Eventually I think our whole family will relocate up here, but we want to wait until our son finishes high school,” Jorge Cousineau said. “We all love it here.”

The couple met in Germany in 1997 and were married a year later. They have two children: 15-year-old Willem and 20-year-old Dalia, who is a student at Lesley University in Boston. Both have grown up spending summers in Maine and work at Sweetcream Dairy in Biddeford.

“It’s a really exciting time to be here in Biddeford,” Niki Cousineau said. “The arts community has really sprung up, and they’re all so welcoming.”

As for putting on a local event like the recent Barnraiser, borrowing the title from the Amish tradition where the community gets to together for the day to collectively build a barn, the group said it was truly a community project.

“We had all our meetings at Elements, we’d get lunch at Biscuits and Company. We were able to walk everywhere from Engine, and get to know the community,” Niki Cousineau said.

“A lot has changed since we filmed ‘Thine Eyes’ in the empty mill buildings,” Jorge Cousineau said, referring to a film created with their company Subcircle in 2013. “One summer we filmed in there, the next it was split up and had Banded Brewing and Portland Pie,”

The trio will attend a conference in the fall on opening artists spaces and hopes to get ideas and inspiration to plan the space. Having artists in the space over a recent weekend helped provide a “bump of energy” for the project, said Niki Cousineau, and added that having friends and colleagues at the location helped make it feel like a reality.

“We’re looking forward to seeing what the future holds for the space,” said Jorge Cousineau. “You can really feel the excitement, the vibrancy.”

For more information about the organization, visit subcirle.org.

Contact Staff Writer Abigail Worthing at news@inthecourier.com.

FMI

To learn more about plans for the property and the organization transforming it, visit subcircle.org.

Return to top