“I can’t even imagine living in a city that didn’t have an arts school,” Roxanne Quimby told a sold-out crowd of more than 270 people at the Maine College of Art’s 15th annual Art Honors, where she was the recipient of the Award for Entrepreneurship in the Arts.

Quimby, the founder of Burt’s Bees and a philantropist who focuces on art and the environment, was one of four invidviduals honored for their significant contributions to the college and the community’s creative economy.

Quimby, who holds a BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute, told us she comes from a family of MBAs, who “were so shocked and discouraged that I’d announced I was going to be an artist.”

In a sweet twist of irony, Quimby told us she later hired both of her MBA sisters before she sold the multimillion-dollar company.

Citing how her arts degree helped her as a businesswoman, Quimby said, “It’s an absolutely priceless education our artists recieve.”

The night’s award for Leadership in Arts Philanthropy went to Betsy Evans Hunt and Christopher Hunt. Betsy served on the MECA board for 17 years and chaired the recent $10.5 million fundraising campaign. Christopher is a Cape Elizabeth family practice physician and a trustee of the Hunt Family Foundation. Many galleries and spaces at the college bear the Hunt name.

Joking that he’s often referred to “as Betsy’s arm candy,” Christopher told those gathered for the creative black tie party that the “Maine College of Art is the hub and heart of civic pride.”

When she stepped to the podium, Betsy, who runs the Evans Gallery, told the crowd that “one of the many reasons I moved to Portland is because of its hip factor.”

Painter Janet Conlon Manyan was honored with the Award for Leadership in Art Education, in recognition of her 15 years teaching art to continuing studies students.

“As a painter, I find the act of teaching so enriches my painting,” Manyan said to the crowd.

During the cocktail party in the college’s Porteous Building on Congress Street in Portland, I talked with MECA Board Chair Candace Pilk Karu about the honorees.

“This year is such a rounded and quality group,” Karu said.

“Roxanne Quimby is extending the arts corridor,” Karu told me, and added that the Quimby Colony artist in residence program is creating synergy with other arts organizations in town, including the Portland Museum of Art.

“Janet Manyan is like a rockstar in the continuing studies program,” Karu said, and then told me that Manyan’s classes are so popular they routinely have a waiting list.

“Betsy Evans Hunt and her husband, Chris, have been very active” with MECA, Karu told me. “We need to recognize these people and encourage them to keep doing what they’re doing.”

Once the cocktail party adjourned, all of us made our way to the upper floors of the building where three separate rooms were transformed into banquet halls. I was seated in the library, where the Hunts were the guests of honor.

I had the pleasure of sitting at the Pierce Atwood table, where I enjoyed the company of Barbara and Tim Wheaton of Yarmouth, screenwriter Kent Pierce, Wright-Ryan Construction principal John Ryan, architect Jenny Scheu and retired Bowdoin College professor Kristina Minister. I sat between Scheu and Minister and enjoyed a lively conversation that ranged from arts and architecture to education and feminism. We all were treated to a gourmet meal cooked by Sodexo, MECA’s food service provider, that included a choice of beef short ribs or quinoa cakes served with Maine asparagus and organic red wheatberry and kamut pilaf. Dessert featured mascarpone mousse in a chocolate cup with brandied cherries, caramel and a dark chocolate ganache.

Before the awards ceremony, I had a chance to speak with Quimby and she told me that “Portland has an enormous amount of creativity. It supports creative people and their journey. The next step is to figure out how to keep these creative people employed.”

When I chatted with former MECA President Roger Gilmore, he spoke about the financial impact the college has on the community.

“I’m tickled pink that MECA’s become so recognized as an important part of the economy,” he told me.

He pointed out that having the college in such a central spot in Portland’s downtown has helped foster the revitalization of the Arts District.

“Look at the gallery scene,” Gilmore said. “There were maybe two galleries 15 to 20 years ago.”

In addition to the growth in the gallery scene, Gilmore noted that MECA attracts many young residents to the area since “a lot of (MECA) students stay around because they love it here.”

Not only does the college recruit more young people into the community, the college is also an important part of the creative economy, which serves to entice business professionals to locate here.

“If a community doesn’t have a thriving sense of culture you’re not going to keep the lawyers and accountants,” Gilmore told me. “Portland is a selling point when they’re recruiting.”

We should all thank the four individuals awarded this year’s Art Honors, because they’ve all played a role in making Portland such an attractive place to live and work.

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

[email protected]

Follow her on Twitter at: