Jennifer Hutchins has been the executive director of Creative Portland Corp. since 2011. Before that, she was director of external affairs at the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service. She was born in Southern California and moved to Brunswick at age 10 when her father decided to relocate there after a career in the Navy. After college, Hutchins moved around the country until returning to Maine in the late 1990s. Creative Portland has one full-time and one part-time employee and an annual budget of about $250,000.
Q: What is Creative Portland?
A: It’s a nonprofit organization founded by the Portland City Council to grow and support the city’s creative economy. The city provides about half of our funding, and half of our board members are appointed by the City Council to oversee how that money is spent. We’ve been in existence since late 2008.
Q: OK, then, what’s a creative economy?
A: I sometimes shy away from using that term because it means so many things to so many people, so you have to be careful how you use it. It’s helpful enough for people to grasp what we’re working on, but there’s a broader definition of it – we’re often talking about more of a knowledge economy, an information economy.
In our increasingly mobile economy, people can often choose where they want to live and work, and creative people will tend to live in cities with certain assets, such as diversity, arts and culture, and higher education. The whole idea is the city could make itself attractive to people in creative professions, and the burden is on the communities and groups like ours to define what a creative profession is. One definition is it’s people who are essentially problem-solvers and involved in creating new knowledge, and that means people like professors, researchers, artists, architects and the CEOs of companies.
Q: Creative economies are often touted as exhibiting greater growth and vibrancy. Is that a goal of Creative Portland?
A: Creative Portland’s goals are part of the city’s economic development plan and our work is very much a collaboration with the Chamber of Commerce, Portland’s Downtown District and the (Greater Portland) Convention and Visitors Bureau. It’s been really important that these agencies are working hand-in-hand with us in promoting initiatives that are intended to benefit all of our constituencies, and that Portland residents understand that Creative Portland is not just out there doing its own thing, we’re collaborating with these other organizations.
Q: How did your group’s goal become drawing creative people to Portland?
A: Back in 2010, (Creative Portland founding president) Andy Graham announced what he called a Big, Hairy and Audacious Goal of attracting 10,000 people to Portland. We hear a lot of people talking about how important it is for the state to be attracting people. We felt that, given the resources we have, the best thing we can do is attract people here who care about arts and culture – bring in the people who are going to donate to the museums, serve on the boards, buy that art. The first thing we noticed is that when it comes to promoting Portland, it’s largely focused on encouraging people to visit here. Maine has a very strong “Vacationland” brand, but we couldn’t find any place promoting Portland as a place to live and work. Nothing was available for people to find out what it was like to live in Maine, so we set up LiveWork Portland. You can go to liveworkportland.org and find out what it’s really like to live and work here and learn it’s not all lobsters and lighthouses. The top home cities of people who go to that site are Boston, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Q: But there has to be more than a website saying great things about Portland.
A: Yes, there is. The next program we started is 2 Degrees Portland, as a way for people to find out more. If you want to take the next step and talk to a real person who lives here, we will pair you with someone who lives in the city. We have about 20 to 40 inquiries a month and we pair them with people we call “connectors.” We will find out what the people are interested in and Sarah (Delisle, the coordinator) will find someone in Portland who has similar interests and find them a connection.
Q: Creative Portland is also the driving force behind First Friday Art Walk. How does that tie in?
A: It’s part of our core mission of promoting Portland as a city with arts and culture. One of the things that attracts people to Portland is First Friday, and our next step is getting people to engage with the galleries and museums and other groups that are part of First Friday. One of the things we’re looking at now is that there used to be a stronger culture of (corporate) arts patronage, when companies were based in Maine, of supporting the arts and cultural activities. So now we’re trying to increase that sense of patronage and are looking at how to use events like First Friday to make that happen.
We’re looking at things like better messaging around the Art Walk, we’re thinking about what we can do to advance the original mission, which was to expand access to the arts community in Portland. One of the things we’re looking at is a street team, volunteers at the Art Walk with information about the arts community who can make it easier for people to get involved, to go into the galleries and become patrons.
We’ve also talked about starting programs for people who are interested in (art) collecting but who don’t think they have the economic status to do that, or people who are intimidated by the thought of becoming a collector, by organizing things such as seminars and talks about how to become a collector. People think they can’t be an art collector unless they’re wealthy, but they need to understand that buying a $150 painting once a year is art collecting – and a statement that you value your arts community.
Historically in the U.S., we treat the arts community as a side leisure activity, for those who have a lot of disposable income, but in a lot of countries, it’s part of the economic system, it’s an actual resource. To start thinking about investing in the arts community because it’s valuable to the community, we’re exploring the idea of talking to smaller companies and nonprofits and ask them what they value. If they value arts and culture, what would happen if they decided to shave $250 off their supply budget and buy some art instead?
Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: