February 6

A Word with the Boss: To support arts and culture, she gets creative

By Edward D. Murphy emurphy@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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.

click image to enlarge

Jennifer Hutchins is executive director of Creative Portland, a nonprofit that works to attract creative people to the city.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Staff Photographer

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. 

(Continued on page 2)

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