Creative Portland – the five-year-old organization behind First Friday Art Walk, LiveWork Portland and 2 Degrees Portland – put an elegant spin on its first major fundraiser with Portland Framed: Art Sale & Revelry.
“Creative Portland is set up to invigorate the creative economy, and I think we’re doing that in a lot of interesting ways,” said photographer Arthur Fink, a member of the Creative Portland board of directors. In setting the tone for the event, he said, “We wanted to be ourselves – a creative bunch, but an elegant bunch.”
Seventy artists responded to an open call, and the event committee selected 57 pieces from 14 artists. Thirty of those pieces were purchased at the event, and the rest will be on sale during the June Art Walk.
“No other cities that I know of have an art organization supported by the city. It’s like none other,” said Tony Cox of Casco Bay Frames and Gallery, which framed each featured piece of art in a uniform 12-by-12-inch black frame.
“We’re building on the success of the Black Frame Art Sale that used to be in Portland,” said Jess Lauren Lipton, program assistant for Creative Portland.
Featured artists ranged from recent Maine College of Art graduates to nationally known block print painter Daniel Minter, who designed Kwanzaa stamps for the U.S. Postal Service and currently has a show in New Orleans.
“Daniel’s participation is very much about his being part of the community and supporting the arts,” explained his wife, Marcia Minter, creative director for L.L. Bean. “It’s just a way of giving back to the community.”
Each piece was priced at $250, with half going to the artist and half going to Creative Portland.
The egalitarian price point was intentional, explained Jennifer Hutchins, executive director of Creative Portland. “What we’re really trying to focus on is that everyone in the show is talented and working at their craft,” she said. “We wanted it to feel like a very even playing field.”
“And this is a good way to expose younger people to buying art, and to making it accessible,” said board member Kathleen McKeon. “You don’t have to pay thousands of dollars.”
Most Creative Portland events are free and open to the public. But Portland Framed took on a decidedly upscale tone, with a flapper-era theme for the evening at the newly renovated Westin Portland Harborview, which first opened during the 1920s. A good number of the female guests wore flapper-inspired clothing, jewelry and hairstyles.
“It’s not every day we get to create ’20s styles for our clients,” said Catherine Pelosi, a Portland Framed committee member. “I work at Akari, so I said, ‘Let’s do this as a team.’ I’m always looking for ways to grow the creative economy.”
Local high school students circulated in theatrical costume pieces with a flair for the dramatic. Garrett Nisbet of Casco Bay High School showed off an all-white ensemble he created from a rug, a pair of shorts, a lace shawl, a bath mat, a turtleneck and a fur collar.
Lady Zen and her band entertained with cabaret tunes and lyric fusion poetry that complemented the 1920s theme. “I think Portland rivals New York in the way that the arts community is so highly concentrated,” she said.
“It’s been five years, and Creative Portland has never had an event like this before,” said Sarah Delisle, a community manager for 2 Degrees Portland, a Creative Portland project that strengthens Portland’s creative economy by connecting people.
“Creative Portland is a magnet for artists in the area to connect,” said Eugenia O’Brien, director of Portland Ballet. “It’s an umbrella that’s protecting a lot of arts.”
“Creative Portland is very good at facilitating collaborations between arts organizations and leading by example,” said Kate Anker, who runs the artists’ collective Running with Scissors.
Artists who might have seen each other as competitors are quite supportive instead, she said, “Because we know how hard it is to actually make it. And it takes appreciators and business types to round out the creative types.”
“Jennifer (Hutchins) has done an unbelievable job building an organization that promotes the creative economy in Maine,” said Eliot Cutler, independent candidate for governor. “She brought it from a standing start to one of the most important creative economy organizations in the state of Maine. It’s really amazing.”
Today, Creative Portland has more than 250 volunteers throughout its projects, and 160 people attended Portland Framed.
“Creative Portland does so much for Portland, it’s a matter of coming out and supporting them in return,” said Lin Lisberger, chair of the Portland Public Art Committee.
“I just wanted to support the arts,” said Linn Miller of Portland. “I’m not an artist, but I think art is essential to life, no matter what you do.”
“Art is a way for people to express what they can’t otherwise,” said Tracy Ahlholm of Union. “That’s how they express what’s inside them.”
Featured artist Daniel Grenier, who works full time as a biologist, would agree.
“First and foremost, I do this for myself,” explained Grenier, who uses antique cameras to create silver gelatin prints by hand. “But it’s really nice to share this with people and see their reactions. I’m going to go away from this excited to make more stuff. This has been a great opportunity.”
Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at: