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Ex-Las Vegans enjoy the artistic life

Mar 23, 2004 5:12 AM

Often times in conversation, someone will come up with the line, "Whatever happened to so and so?"

And in many cases, those hearing the question will repeat, "Yes, I wonder whatever happened to him or her."

So it was of interest recently to pick up a copy of Yankee magazine and see a photo of Jay Barrett and his wife Maureen who, according to the article, spent part of each year "in a sprawling gray house on Kehail Point on Westport Island" in Maine.

Barrett is a longtime associate of Tony Marnell and Marnell Carrao Associates, the firm that built such famous resorts as The Mirage and Bellagio on the Las Vegas Strip

Also, they built, developed and operated the Rio Suites Hotel/Casino until they sold the property to Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. (HET).

Since then, little has been heard of Jay Barrett at least until his photo and that of his wife was displayed in the little magazine that circulates nationally, mostly to former New Englanders or those who wish they were.

In the article, written by Edgar Allen Beem, the couple was described as "Living Their Dream" on a five and one-half acre estate that features a small guest cottage, a large guest house, called the Irish House, tennis courts, a dock, walking trails and what was described as "soulful views down the Sheepscot River to the sea."

Why Maine?

Maureen Barrett, a native of Seattle, said it resulted from intuition. "I knew years ago I would end up in Maine," she explained. And that same intuition, she said, "told her that her life would eventually be filled with artists."

After buying a large Maine art collection, the couple established an artists residency program where Maureen could "make a bunch of muffins and send all those talented people out to create art." For her, she told her interviewer, it was a "dream come true."

Both Jay and Maureen graduated from the University of Florida in 1973 and they decided to seek their fortune in Las Vegas. Jay, a certified public accountant, joined forces with Marnell while Maureen went into the advertising business.

Throughout their business careers, the couple maintained their interest in the arts and in 1987 they established the Robert M. MacNamara Foundation in honor of Maureen’s father, a career FBI special agent. Initially, the foundation’s main focus was to provide financial assistance to college students.

But the move to Maine, and the Westport Island facility provided them with the opportunity to further their interest in assisting budding artists. They established their artists’ residency program in a building called "MacBarn," a $1.7 million facility that was actually a dairy barn that was moved from Pennsylvania to the Barrett’s Maine property.

Following its conversion, "MacBarn" became a 9,000-square foot facility that provided four small bedrooms with private baths and a common living area for those accepted into the program.

The program now operates four six-week residencies a year, each for four to eight artists, novelists, poets and photographers. They receive free room and board plus a stipend for materials or for travel. They share studio space and share meals in a communal environment, all fulfilling Maureen’s early vision.

She described the effort as "life-changing for all of us. For the artists, it’s a chance to go beyond where they’ve been. We try to stay pretty much in the background, but we’ve actually been able to watch people change. It’s like throwing a dinner party every day."

For the Barretts, life has taken them from their student days in Florida to their business careers in Las Vegas and to their artistic refuge in Maine, a journey that fulfilled their early desire to make some artists’ dreams come true.