Jean Maginnis, executive director of the Maine Center for Creativity, has been a force in Maine’s artistic and creative economy for nearly a decade and is probably best known for the first “Art All Around” project, which transformed stark oil tanks in South Portland into huge canvases for art.
She currently is deep into planning for Maine Startup and Create Week, which will run June 12-20 and bring together entrepreneurs and creative professionals in Portland to highlight the state as a place where creativity and business startups can build on one another. Maginnis grew up in Massachusetts but was very familiar with Maine from summers – and even a few winter weeks – spent at a family cabin in York County. After a marketing job took her to Louisville, Kentucky, she began thinking about where she really wanted to live.
Q. How did you decide to create the Maine Center for Creativity?
A. I remember my son, when he was a junior in high school, telling me that he wanted to move out of Maine because there was no opportunity for him. I started to think about that and consider what I was giving back to my community and one of the things that interested me was the creative economy. Then there was the creative economy summit in 2004 and I thought, this is where I can do something. So I started to express my interest in doing something to support the creative industry. I felt I could create a center to nurture creativity and think about ways to get Maine on the map for creativity and innovation. One day, I took a bike ride with my husband and had an a-ha moment when I saw all the white tanks. I also talked to some young people who had just moved here and had considered 48 other cities to move to and they said when they looked at the facts and looked at Google Earth, they decided Portland was the best place. I thought it would be interesting to develop a view that Google Earth would see and it would bring out the creativity that was going on here.
Q. What else went into bringing the paint-the-tanks project about?
A. It was our first project and a creative place-making project to help develop the conversation and the idea of arts and business coming together and having more impact than either one alone. I had a core group of people around me and we all worked together to develop the programs and make real the idea of having an international competition to paint the tanks. We’ve completed six tanks and we’ll paint as many of the rest of them as we can as long as the interest and the support is there.
Q. What’s next?
A. Our next project is the Maine Network of Creativity and Industry and the Maine Creative Awards. The network is a group of those interested in economic development, the arts, small businesses and large businesses to … connect our populations.It’s those connections that really help develop innovation, so this group is working on developing Maine and the collaboration to try to put all those efforts together – to build an interpersonal and digital network to seek and find and collaborate. Sometimes there are people with talent who don’t know who wants their talent and people who want talent and can’t find it. So this would help bring them together and while the efforts underway are powerful, often it only has a small impact. But if we can lift it and connect it to the rest of our state, it has a bigger impact.
Q. What are the awards for?
A. The Maine Creative Industries Award is designed to honor people who put business and art together. Two years ago we gave it to (Idexx founder) David Shaw and his wife, (actress) Glenn Close, and this November, we’re giving it to (actor) Patrick Dempsey and the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope and Healing and to The Jackson Laboratory for its cancer research work. Patrick brings the artistic background, and then there’s the (lab’s) innovation of blending treatment and research. They (Dempsey and Jackson Lab officials) developed a collaboration to bring knowledge and expertise and heart together on issues around cancer. They’re constantly trying to solve the question of not only how do we care for cancer patients, but how do we also reach for the cure?
That’s the power of what we try to do: spark these connections and recognize the importance of the both head and heart.
Q. What about ongoing efforts, like the Creative Tool Box series?
A. The Creative Toolbox series we’ve done since 2007, bringing people in to talk about different issues and this time (June 18) we’re bringing in Shannon Kinney of Dream Local Digital (a digital marketing agency) to talk about her experiences and make connections with people. We also have the Creative Toolbox Salons, which are conversations with people around the topic of creativity and creative practices and how important that is to our ability to innovate.
We also have Pecha Kucha Portland. Pecha Kucha means chit-chat in Japanese and it was an idea that was developed in Japan. The idea is a concept to have 20 slides, 20 seconds each, to present an idea. It draws in creative people, as diverse as neighborhood groups or architects or engineers, four times a year with people presenting ideas. It’s a discipline for how to communicate in a six-minute, 40-second platform to have impact and a way to continue to build and connect the creative community.
Q. How does art fit into all this?
A. Art is a discipline that teaches concepts and I have seen more and more of an understanding of that in companies that want to innovate. People who are trained to think conceptually are very good at developing something that wasn’t there before. Artists can take that discipline and develop it and apply their conceptual knowledge and innovate and also develop specific skills, like graphic design. Art is a great category for communication and the power of visuals. Art and communication skills can be put to use for a new company and help tell their story in a visual way. Business is about moving people to action most of the time, like buying or reading or clicking or making. There are many places in the world that are recognizing that design thinking is important and helps businesses innovate – and when they innovate, they create new jobs. We’re a community of people with heart and soul and head and all of these things need to be fed by putting art and business together.
Q. Do you consider yourself particularly creative?
A. I think that I always enjoyed working with creative people and figured I should follow my heart and the money will follow, so I work with my passion and apply business skills around it. For instance, the tank project led to the decision to launch the Center for Creativity. I felt we could show people how creative and innovative we are and we worked with unlikely collaborators, like engineers and artists together. That led to thinking about how we can collaborate to bring something to the table bigger than what we had alone. I see things differently now by seeing things through an artist’s eyes, but I’m not a painter. We’re all creative. It’s a human condition to be creative, whether it’s making a nice dinner or creating your business or your work of art.
Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: