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

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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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"We are shifting the paradigm from a company town to a more diverse design and manufacturing center, consisting of many small businesses instead of one big company," Ackerman said. "We're not talking about the visual arts and fine art, although that is part of the conversation. But we are talking mostly about design and teaching people to think creatively."

As an example, she cited the local company Hyperlite Mountain Gear, which makes high-end shelters, packs, tarps and accessories for the outdoors. "If they need to design a part, we could help them with that by facilitating a connection with local designers. We could support them with research and development and design. We are looking at the micro economy throughout Biddeford's highly walkable downtown."

Hutchins will talk to Landesman about the work of Creative Portland Corp. to advance public policy and private business practices to make Portland attractive to creative entrepreneurs. She said Portland is "an ideal example" of a city that has identified its arts and cultural assets and made broad commitments to them.

"I am hoping that he sees that we, across all sectors -- business, government and the nonprofit arts and cultural community -- promote all these values and ideals," Hutchins said.

It's important that people understand the creative economy does not simply mean supporting artists in their studio practices, Ackerman and Hutchins agreed. It means supporting an environment where those artists -- painters, musicians, actors, designers and anyone who uses creative talent to make a living -- can create meaningful lives for themselves while adding to the cultural environment of their community.

QUALITY-OF-LIFE ASSETS

At Creative Portland, the conversation has shifted from defining the creative economy to articulating its importance in policies and business practices so it is integral to the character and vibrancy of the city, Hutchins said.

"We want to support our arts and cultural community by providing the people who are going to be the patrons, buy the art and come downtown and appreciate the value of Congress Street and all the organizations and people that make this such a great place to live and work," Hutchins said. "We are attracting people who value and appreciate those assets. We want those assets to be a part of the whole set of assets that people attribute to quality of life in this city."

Landesman's visit coincides with the Furniture Society's 2012 national conference, opening at MECA on Thursday. In conjunction with the conference, several galleries are hosting furniture exhibitions, and MECA is using the conference to talk about art as business.

"Art means business," said Jessica Tomlinson, director of public relations and the new Artists at Work program at the college. "You go to art school to get the skills you need to be an artist. But more and more, we are teaching students how to apply those skills in the world professionally. We teach students how to find a personal and professional path to make an impact in the world, whether they want to be the next international art star or a production-line potter or a furniture maker."

RECOGNITION OF CULTURAL IMPACT

Mark Bessire, director of the Portland Museum of Art, said Landesman's visit affirms the good work in the arts already going on in Maine, and bodes well for future funding. The more Landesman is aware of what is happening, the more likely it is that Maine will be viewed as a model for other states and as an example of a state doing things the right way.

"We're a big state with a small population, but our cultural impact is bigger than it would appear," Bessire said. "His coming here recognizes that, which for us is fantastic. I think it says a lot that he is hitting main street, walking up and down and going to galleries, the museum and other art spots. This is a tough economic climate to be championing the arts. But no matter the climate, the arts are so crucial to our identity here in Maine."

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:

bkeyes@pressherald.com

Twitter: pphbkeyes

 

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