“When you have art and artists in the center of a place, the ethos of that place changes. It becomes a different place.”

— Rocco Landesman, chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts, speaking in Portland

She’d called me, wanted to meet. “I’m surprised,” I told her, as I slid onto the bar stool. “Knowing you, I would’ve thought you’d pick Bar Lola. Or Taco Escobarr. But here?”

My old squeeze, The Creative Economy, glanced around. “I know, it doesn’t make sense, but I’ve always liked The Top of the East. Maybe it’s because we have the same first name.” She grew silent.

“Hey, you all right?”

She smiled. “Oh you know me, better than ever. Why, don’t you read the papers?”


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Sure, I’d read the papers. Read that she was pumping fifty million a year into the local nonprofit scene. Read that she had transformed Congress Street. Read that she had dazzled every politician from Arundel to Augusta — well, maybe not Augusta.

“You’re all I hear about,” I said. “Creative-Economy-this, Creative-Economy-that. Geez,” I wisecracked, “who does your P.R.?”

Her eyes widened. “Barton and Gingold,” she whispered, “who told you?”

“No, I was just — forget it. So babe, what’s up?” I reached over to rub her shoulder and she closed her eyes. The Creative Economy was always easy to stimulate.

“Can’t a girl even get a compliment for how she looks?”


It’s true, she was stunning, but then she always is. Shoes hand-cobbled in some basement on Munjoy Hill. Earrings from a pop-up store that only appears every March 8th on the Cliff Island ferry. A blouse woven from recycled MECA catalogs.

“You look great,” I said. “Like a million bucks.”

“Actually, it’s $26.5 million in annual organizational spending and audience expenditures of $22.6 million, with the average Portland audience member spending $28.25 compared to a national figure of $24.60 — but who’s counting?”

Always with the numbers, I thought. Always trying to justify herself.

The waiter came by. The Creative Economy ordered a Beering Oaks, and I had to grin. Who else even knew about the locally sourced brewery operating inside the statue at Monument Square?

More silence. Then she spoke softly. “I still don’t know why you left me.”


So that’s it. She wants to get back together.

“Listen, we’ve been over that a million –“

“But you never gave me a chance! I was younger when we met, I was just starting out! It was The Tree restaurant and Cafe No and Holt, Hughes, & Stamell — that was it! But look at me now, just look at me now!”

“I’m lookin’.”

“Do you know that Portland has a higher chefs-to-accountants ratio than any other U.S. city with a population under 160,000? Do you know that 42 percent of the lobstermen who tie up at the docks are also taking Web design classes at SMCC? Do you know –” she started to tremble — “do you know that the Kokomo Tribune said our food carts were second only to Singapore’s and Berlin’s? No, you don’t, do you?!”

“Easy, babe, everyone in the bar will — “


“I’m going to ask you something and I want you to be completely honest with me. Can you do that?”


She bit her lip. “Are you seeing another economy?”

“Look, I don’t think we –“

“Is it STEM? Aquaculture? Clean tech? Just tell me, please, I deserve to know!”

Now I was silent.


“Is it –“

“Babe, stop it! There’s no one else. You know that. You’ve got this town sewn up like a pair of gloves.”

“By the way,” she interrupted, “have you heard about the new glove-making workshop for Rwandan refugees over at — “

“See, that’s it! That’s it! You have your hands in everything! You’ve grown too big for me, that’s all, it’s just too — too much. I thought I knew Portland, but I don’t anymore. It’s hard for me to tell what isn’t The Creative Economy. You’ve got the bars, the restaurants, the galleries, the design firms, the architects, God, even the bowling alleys!”

She glared at me. “It is not a bowling alley. It is a community gathering place for thought leaders and creativistas.”

“I still say it’s a bowling alley.”


Silence again.

She looked past me. “You know, when I first started seeing you, my friends told me to stay away.”


“I liked you. But they all said it wouldn’t last. They used to call you something. Something mean and hateful and dirty. I defended you, but now I think they may have been right.”

“What did they call me?”

She paused. “They said you were … off-peninsula.”

Man, that was low.

John Spritz is a marketing and communications consultant based in Portland, www.jspritz.com.

Illustration by Barbara Neibart, www.bneibart.com

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