For the better part of a decade, arts leaders in Maine have hammered the Maine Office of Tourism to do a better job to promote cultural tourism in the state.

Lord knows, people come from all over the country and around the world to avail themselves of Maine art, of the visual variety and the performing arts. The Maine art tradition is as rich and deep as any in the state, including outdoors and recreation.

This year, they get their wish.

Working in partnership with almost two dozen performing arts groups and the Maine Arts Commission, the Office of Tourism has begun a program called Maine Performs! It includes a handsome brochure that highlights cultural tourism opportunities, and a website (maineperforms.com) that allows people to research cultural opportunities in the state and tailor a vacation around them.

At least in this initial phase, Maine Performs! includes only the performing arts. The organizations featured in the first round of promotion are many of the obvious ones, from the Portland Symphony and Portland Stage Company to the Theater at Monmouth and the Maine International Film Festival in Waterville.

But there are some surprises in here, too — Space Gallery in Portland, which caters to a younger crowd with edgier concerts and theater; the Oddfellow Theater in Buckfield, which offers a blend of variety-show performances and comedy; and the Kneisel Hall Chamber Music Festival in Blue Hill, which draws some of the finest classical musicians in the world.

“We’re finally getting some traction on this after all these years,” effused Laura Faure, director of the Bates Dance Festival, which opens a new season in July in Lewiston. “It’s an idea that’s been cooking in some people’s heads for a long time. The tourism office and Maine Arts Commission stepped in and said, ‘This is a good idea, we’ll get behind it.’ “

Faure has reason to be happy. The Office of Tourism put a sassy photo of a Bates dancer on the cover. Dressed in red and swinging with action, the female dancer is certain to get attention in the tourism centers and other places where the brochure is distributed. She connotes energy, action and a vibrancy that puts all Maine arts groups in a positive light.

Linda Nelson of Opera House Arts at the Stonington Opera House said it’s about time Maine tourism promotes something other than lighthouses and lobsters.

“There are a lot of other reasons that people come here,” she said. “We need to start making those (performing arts) resources visible. Our performing arts groups have a big impact in our small communities.”

That is especially true in places like Stonington, where Opera House Arts offers programming all year long. Nelson sees people from all over the country at the opera house, and many of them come to experience all that Maine offers — its natural beauty as well as its cultural resources.

The goal of the program is to highlight and promote Maine’s cultural treasures. The 15-page guide provides information on more than 20 theaters, arts centers, festivals and organizations producing music, dance, film and stage productions.

At maineperforms.com, visitors can download the guide and follow web links to each listing. The brochure is available at visitor information centers, performing arts organizations and theaters across Maine.

As the program evolves, the number of organizations that are listed and promoted will be expanded, said Kerstin Gilg, who specializes in the performing arts for the Maine Arts Commission. Especially in the first year, it was important to keep the number relatively small and manageable.

Geographic diversity also was important. It would have been a mistake to focus only on Portland and the coast, he said. Any organization can list its events on the website.

The initial group represents the best of Maine. All are well-established arts presenters with a strong web presence. They are, as Gilg said, “tourism ready.”

The success of the program will be evaluated later, after Maine Performs! has a chance to find its way into the minds of visitors. The brochure has only been available for a few weeks, and the summer tourism season has barely begun. The state invested about $15,000 on the program.

Success likely means more tourists, although there are no metrics in place to measure the impact of the program. At the very least, the two dozen organizations in the initial guide hope to see a boost in attendance, either because there are more out-of-state visitors or greater awareness among Mainers. Especially with high gas prices, more tourism may originate within the state, Faure said.

“This program is going to give people who come to the state a whole other menu of options to layer into their visits, and I think it will help within the state as well, to make people more aware of things that go on that may not be on their radar,” she said. “I will be curious to track the audience this summer and see if we can get an uptick from it. I expect that we will, somewhat.” 

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

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