June 10, 2012

Maine downtowns' creative zest to take a bow

The head of the largest arts funder will see how federal money fosters economic growth in the state.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts will spend parts of two days in Maine this week, touring the arts-centric cities of Rockland and Portland for a first-hand look at how federal dollars spur economic development in the state through the arts and creative enterprise.

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Rocco Landesman, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, will visit Rockland and Portland this week.

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Rocco Landesman, who attended Colby College, will visit Rockland on Wednesday afternoon, then drive to Portland for a 5 p.m. forum at Portland Stage Company and a reception later that evening at Maine College of Art (MECA).

Thursday morning, he will tour the Portland Arts District on foot and, if time allows, stop at the Portland Museum of Art for a quick look at the new exhibition of French landscape paintings that opens Thursday. At MECA, he will get a preview of a national furniture-making conference that also opens Thursday.

"The NEA is the largest funder of the arts in Maine, so the fact that the chairman of this granting organization is visiting Maine to see what is going on, on the ground, is a great benefit to us," said Darrell Bulmer, acting director of the Maine Arts Commission. "The NEA has said that Maine is leading the way in the revitalization of downtowns through the creative economy. I am hoping he sees evidence of that here."

There's no doubt that he will.

Landesman will meet dozens of artists, arts leaders and others engaged in economic development while in Maine, including musicians, painters, furniture makers, actors, business leaders, bankers, policy wonks and administrators.

He will visit several art galleries in Rockland and attend a lunchtime forum at the Farnsworth Art Museum with representatives of the museum, the Center for Maine Contemporary Art, Maine Media Workshops, Bay Chamber Concerts, Camden International Film Festival, the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship and others.

In Portland, he will hear from Jennifer Hutchins of the Creative Portland Corp.; Tammy Ackerman of the Biddeford arts-economic development agency Engine; and Sharon Corwin, director of the Colby College Museum of Art.

Although he is a frequent visitor to Maine, this week marks Landesman's first official visit to Maine as NEA chairman. He has held the post since August 2009.

The NEA provides approximately $750,000 to the state and is responsible for about half of all arts-related grants given to artists and arts organizations in Maine.

Landesman will meet with many individuals and organizations that have benefited from NEA funding, including Marty Pottenger, founder and director of Art At Work, a national initiative piloted with the city of Portland, its unions and elected officials to improve municipal government through strategic arts projects. Pottenger's program received $100,000, the largest NEA grant in the state.

'WANTED HIM TO SEE MAINE'

Landesman is coming at the request of U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, who will host the visit. Pingree and Donna McNeil, Bulmer's predecessor, met with Landesman in Washington, D.C., soon after he took office to talk about Maine's work on the creative economy.

"I think he totally understands how the creative arts and the creative economy can work in rural states like ours," Pingree said. "I wanted him to see Maine, because it offers such a great example of what is going on on Main Street. It's happening in little communities like Biddeford and Waterville, and bigger cities like Portland."

Pingree is married to financier S. Donald Sussman, a contributor to Democratic and charitable causes and the majority share owner of MaineToday Media, which owns The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta, the Morning Sentinel in Waterville and other media outlets in Maine.

CONNECTING IN BIDDEFORD

During the Portland forum, Ackerman plans to talk about the role of arts and creative enterprise in the ongoing transformation of Biddeford.

(Continued on page 2)

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