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Our Story

The Center for Arts and Ecology at Desert of Maine was incorporated as a nonprofit organization in spring 2021, gaining 501(c)(3) status in 2023. While the Desert of Maine, a commercial enterprise since 1926, continues to operate as a tourist destination and campground, the Center for Arts and Ecology is a separate entity focusing solely on educational, ecological, and arts programming for curious audiences of all ages.  The Desert of Maine offers a unique outdoor classroom to witness ecological impact and recovery—while visitors can view obvious signs of ecological devastation and the negative impact of human choices, we can also witness nature’s remarkable resilience. The Desert is an ideal place to study reforestation, allowing us to view the commonalities with other landscapes that are rebounding while also observing the resilient and co-evolving native ecosystems that are unique to this landscape. Far from being a wasteland, the Desert of Maine is a living testament to the ability of nature to heal and thrive once again. Our educational programs provide an immersive look into environmental consequences and rehabilitation.  The Tuttle Barn, dating to the mid-1800s and the last surviving structure of the working Freeport farm owned by the Tuttle family, offers a lens to view Maine’s agricultural and architectural history. Our educational programs often include historical reenactment transporting us back in time with Eleanor and Elizabeth Tuttle, who provide a glimpse into the daily joys and stresses of a Civil War-era Maine farm. The Desert of Maine's unique and wondrous natural landscape inspires artistic expression. Maine is rich in talented musicians, artists, and artisans, and we strive to connect them with broader audiences through our programming. Part of our vision is to create a vibrant arts center to serve visitors, artists, and Freeport residents. 

Our Connection to the Desert

The Desert of Maine landscape is vibrating with life and stories that span thousands of years. The Desert tells the story of the slow motion ebbs and flows of geological time that take place on a grand, planetary scale. It tells the story of human folly, but within the context of the social norms and ancestral practices that are handed down to any individual group of people. It tells the story of a local man who saw opportunity in what for others was tragedy and loss. It tells a story of people who spun meaning and a livelihood out of a patch of land that was otherwise irredeemable. It tells a story of the triumph of creativity. We want to help continue the story of this place in a way that is healing and enlivening for the people who come to enjoy the Desert’s beauty and wisdom.


Mela Jones

Mela is the Director of Arts and Education at the Desert of Maine Center for the Arts where she develops nature immersion and arts programs that serve the diverse wider-Portland community. A graduate of Oberlin College and the University of California at Davis where she earned her PhD in Comparative Literature, Mela enjoyed a career as a professor at Merrimack College where she taught Spanish language, literature and film. In recent years, Mela has returned to her first love--the arts. She is passionate about using her academic research skills and love of fiction to dig into the history of the Desert of Maine in order to communicate the fascinating stories to visitors and teach workshops on crafting artful historical narratives. 

Executive Director


Deborah Perkins


Ex-Officio, Board of Directors

Deborah is a wildlife ecologist with 30 years of experience and a deep commitment to healing human and natural communities through ecological restoration. She is the author of Ecology at the Edge - a field guide to the Desert of Maine's unique ecology.  She is honored to share her passion and expertise with the Center for Arts and Ecology. As the owner of First Light Wildlife Habitats, Deb has been co-creating biodiverse habitats with stewards throughout the Northeast since 2010. Before that she was a roving field biologist – conducting fieldwork and wildlife research throughout North America in a wide range of habitats, from the deserts of New Mexico to the remote tundra landscape of the Canadian Arctic. She has also worked as an advocate, collaborator, and program manager for non-profit conservation organizations including The Wilderness Society, the Biodiversity Research Institute, and the Northern Forest Alliance.


Lauren Manganello


Board of Directors

Lauren has served on the Center for Arts and Ecology’s board since its inception in 2021. After graduating from Bentley University with a marketing degree, Lauren worked for over fourteen years leading market research campaigns for public affairs, consumer products and nonprofits. She began her career as an analyst and ultimately became a director for a boutique Boston-based market research firm. She brings her corporate background in both Marketing and Project Management to her work at the Center for Arts and Ecology as well as other area nonprofits, including the Maine Coast Waldorf School as the co-head of the Parent Association. Lauren lives in Freeport with her husband John and their three children. As neighbors to the Desert of Maine, she and her family have long enjoyed its natural beauty but more so the recent transformation into a world class experiential attraction and center for education, arts and ecology.


Anne Ackerman

Board of Directors

Anne is an artist and educator, who hopes to instill curiosity, appreciation and conservation of the natural world through the arts. Anne holds a Masters in Education and a BFA in Art Education from the University of Southern Maine. Anne has presented arts-integrated workshops at national conferences for both classroom and visual arts educators. Anne is the lead teaching artist and program coordinator for SidexSide and also works within the USM Art Department.


Jennifer Pochurek

Board of Directors

Jennifer began her career in fundraising and development in 2003 when she worked as the Membership and Visitor Services Coordinator for the Florida Museum of Natural History. After taking time off to raise her three children she returned to development and event planning at various educational institutions.  In 2018 Jennifer and her family moved from Florida to Freeport, Maine.  She quickly became acquainted with the Desert of Maine and was thrilled to learn about the Center for Arts and Ecology.  She joined the Board in 2022 and looks forward to sharing her skills to help the Center grow.


John Albright

Board of Directors

John Albright began his career finding, studying, and conserving important species and natural communities by interning with The Maine Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.  This led to his serving as the Director of TNC’s Maine Natural Heritage Program, an intensive survey of rare and endangered species and natural communities throughout Maine. In that position he had the great good fortune to work with experts in all fields of natural history studies throughout Maine. He was instrumental in devising and launching the Maine Amphibian and Reptile Atlas Project, one of the first ‘citizen scientist’ inventories nationwide.  Upon retiring, John focussed on his other passion - music.  He created an online concert series (aka “Til We Meet Again”) that ran during the pandemic;  He advocated for and organized the Freeport Folk Festival in 2019; and organized an annual concert series’ at Wolfe’s Neck Center; all of which was designed to connect local talent with venues and audiences. John served on the Boards of the Forest Society of Maine, Freeport Conservation Trust, The Freeport Players, and the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Freeport.


Tom Boutureira

Board of Directors

Tom Boutureira is a Community Partner at the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation where he leads and implements strategies that advance nature-based education and rural, place-based community and economic development. Tom brings with him a collection of experiences in community outreach and organizing, natural resource conservation, program development, and nonprofit management. From the intertidal clam flats of Downeast Maine to the Andean valleys of Bolivia, he has developed a quiet style of leadership that supports and promotes the work of partners and seeks ways to remove barriers that impede the health and resiliency of our human and ecological communities. Tom serves on the boards of the Blue Sky Funders Forum, Environmental Funders Network, Freeport Conservation Trust, and Tri-Town Little League. Tom lives in Freeport with his wife (Chloe), two boys (Arlo and Darwin), and dogs (Myrtle and Pepita).

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