In the realm of art and culture, 2010 felt like a bonanza year. Some of entertainment’s biggest stars came to Maine. Taylor Swift showed up in the spring to make a video, and came back to Kennebunkport later in the year to debut it for adoring fans.
Lady Gaga visited Portland in September to rally support for repealing the policy known as “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which barred gays and lesbians from openly serving in the military. Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe must have been listening — they voted for repeal.
A handful of Mainers made themselves famous. Marine veteran Ryan Ahern snagged a role alongside Denzel Washington in a hot new movie, and Heather Hemmens landed a part on the new TV series “Hellcats.”
In the visual art realm, former Portland resident and Maine College of Art graduate Ahmed Alsoudani moved into the big leagues of the art world when Sotheby’s sold one of his paintings for nearly a half-million dollars.
Local rapper Spose landed a major-label deal and placed his song “I’m Awesome” on the Billboard chart.
It was an important year for a few art and performance institutions as well. The Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockport survived a financial crisis last winter and reopened in the spring with one of its strongest seasons. In Portland, the State Theatre also reopened, bringing an impressive lineup of national acts to the city.
And speaking of impressive national acts, how good was the inaugural Nateva Festival in Oxford over the Fourth of July weekend? Pretty awesome, thanks to the likes of Furthur, moe., the Flaming Lips, Jakob Dylan and dozens of others.
We had a few hiccups, too. The Portland Public Art Committee finally decided to do something — anything — with the hated “Tracing the Fore” landscape installation down at Boothby Square. But the committee’s decision to recommend relocating the sculpture didn’t sit well with some folks, who complained the cost of moving the piece isn’t worth the hassle.
And let’s not forget, Portland came in dead last in Men’s Health magazine “Hotbeds of Sex” list.
Talk about a downer.
Staffers Ray Routhier, Stephanie Bouchard and Bob Keyes offer their insight into the year in art and culture.
1. LADY GAGA: Perhaps the biggest pop singer in the world right now, Gaga has long advocated for the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which barred openly gay people from serving in the military.
On Sept. 20, with little advance notice, she spoke at a repeal rally at Portland’s Deering Oaks. Thousands of people packed the park during the free event, and some were able to almost touch the singer as she walked from her tour bus to the stage. She didn’t sing, but fans were thrilled just to see her. Many were impressed by her willingness to take a stand on this controversial issue. And her efforts may have resounded outside of Maine as the repeal was signed into law by President Obama last week. — R.R.
2. TAYLOR SWIFT: Country music star Swift got people’s attention when she showed up in Maine in midsummer to film scenes for the video to her song “Mine” in Kennebunk and other coastal locations. She said she chose seaside Maine because “I’ve always been weirdly obsessed with the New England kind of look.”
On Aug. 27, Swift and a crew from CMT showed up at St. Ann’s Episcopal Church in Kennebunkport to tape a live show that would introduce her new video on national TV. A crowd of 1,000 or more showed up for the free event, and they even got a free concert as Swift and her band played a few songs. — R.R.
3. “TRACING THE FORE”: One of the biggest art stories of the year happened just a few weeks ago when Portland’s all-volunteer public art panel bit the bullet on “Tracing the Fore” and recommended its removal from Boothby Square and relocation elsewhere. The City Council still has to sign off on the idea.
As time has worn on, people in Portland — and especially the business folks who work in Boothby Square — have grown increasingly fed up with the landscaped art installation. Its concept was solid: A flowing mound of sculpted grass interspersed with wave-shaped panels of stainless steel that mimic the Fore River. But its execution was flawed. The piece required a different kind of grass than grew easily in Portland. It also required regular maintenance. Without either, the piece became infested with weeds, and reflected badly on the neighborhood.
At first, the committee considered a proposal to remove the piece for good, and not relocate it. But enough members of the art panel endorsed the idea of moving it. Its final location is to be determined. Stayed tuned. This one is not over. — B.K.
4. THE STATE THEATRE: A 1929 movie palace converted into a concert venue, the State Theatre closed in 2006 after a series of managers couldn’t make a go of the place. In May, a pair of out-of-state music promotion companies took over and hired long-time Portland music booker Lauren Wayne as manager.
Fans hoped the new team could make the State an anchor of the city’s arts district once again.
After $1.5 million in renovations — new seats, plaster, paint, carpeting, lights and sound equipment — the 1,500 seat theater reopened Oct. 15 with a sold-out concert by pop rockers My Morning Jacket. Concerts booked so far for early 2011 include Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt on Jan. 14 (already a sellout); Comedians of Chelsea Lately on Jan. 28; Robyn on Jan. 29; Hinder on Feb. 9; and Flogging Molly on Feb. 26. — R.R.
5. NATEVA: We’ve heard nothing official yet, but wouldn’t you be shocked if the Nateva Festival did not return to Oxford in 2011? The inaugural festival, held over three very hot days in the dusty old fairgrounds of Oxford County, drew huge crowds and dozens of big-name bands. There were some minor mishaps along the way, but by and large the festival went off without a hitch. The crowds were well-behaved, and people seemed to like what they heard. Of course, it helped to have some of the biggest names in rock show up, including Phil Lesh and Bob Weir’s Furthur on the festival’s final night. The festival drew national attention and rave reviews. Can’t wait to see the lineup for 2011. — B.K.
6. SPOSE: When Ryan Peters, a rapper from Wells who goes by the stage name Spose, self-released the single “I’m Awesome,” his biggest hope was to get it played on local radio. What he got was a contract with Universal Republic Records, a division of Universal Music Group, one of the biggest players in the music business. Whether you hate it or love it, “I’m Awesome” created a nationwide buzz with lyrics like “I’m drivin’ around in my mom’s ride” and “I talk to myself on my Facebook wall.” The song peaked at No. 37 on the Billboard Hot 100.
You can see Spose performing in the flesh on New Year’s Eve at Asylum in Portland. Tickets are $30 (available at Bull Moose Music stores) for this 21-and-older performance. Doors at 8:30 p.m. — S.B.
7. AHMED ALSOUDANI: The painter became a star this year. Check that. He became a superstar.
Alsoudani arrived in Portland in 2001 with no knowledge of the city, minimal English skills and an interest in art. He enrolled at MECA, and over the course of the next four years the Iraqi native endeared himself to the painting faculty and his peers. He did his graduate work at Yale, and eventually settled in New York. His career has hit overdrive.
He makes dense and deeply emotional paintings that speak to the suffering that happens during times of war and oppression. His work is timely and relevant, and full of impact. This fall, Sotheby’s sold one of his pieces for nearly $500,000, and Alsoudani will represent Iraq at the Venice Biennale in 2011. — B.K.
8. CENTER FOR MAINE CONTEMPORARY ART: Turns out, 2010 was a banner year for CMCA, at least in terms of its public image. The contemporary art center in Rockport closed last fall and laid off its staff, citing budget woes. Many wondered if the center would reopen. It did, and 2010 proved to be a great year. CMCA hosted several high-profile exhibitions, including a wonderful photography show that captured the best of Maine photography over the past decade. If nothing else, it felt affirming to witness the Maine arts community rally in support of this institution. — B.K.
9. RYAN AHERN AND HEATHER HEMMENS: Two Mainers had their acting careers kick-started in 2010.
Scarborough native Ahern knew he was a lucky guy after surviving two tours in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division. His luck continued after leaving the military when he headed for Hollywood to start a career in movies. Almost unheard of in Hollywood, Ahern landed a role in a major action film nearly as soon as he got to the movie mecca. “Unstoppable,” directed by Tony Scott (“Top Gun” and “True Romance”), stars Denzel Washington and Chris Pine and is currently showing locally. While Ahern’s role is small, he takes part in some of the most intense scenes of the film, playing the role of a Marine veteran with special ops training who is called upon to help stop a runaway train.
Hemmens, of Waldo, had some guest roles on TV shows such as “CSI: Miami” and “Without a Trace,” but her new gig as college cheerleader Alice Verdura on the CW’s “Hellcats” has kicked her into the world of TV series cult status. The comedy/drama about college cheerleading received mixed reviews when it premiered last fall, but it has a ton of fans and was nominated for a People’s Choice Award for Favorite New TV Drama. — S.B.
10. HOTBEDS OF SEX: Men’s Health magazine’s Hotbeds of Sex list in its October issue reported 100 cities ranked from most to least sexually active based on statistics such as condom and sex toy sales, birth rates and rates of sexually transmitted diseases. Portland came in dead last. That Portland ranked 100th out of 100 can be taken two ways: A.) Wow! We made the Hotbeds of Sex list?! B.) What do you mean Portland isn’t a hotbed of sex? — S.B.