WATERVILLE — Julie Richard knows that without strong arts education in Maine schools, children will not have a strong understanding of the arts.

They will not become artists or audience members who patronize the theater, musical performances, dance, movies and other events. They will not become critical thinkers, she said.

Richard, executive director of the Maine Arts Commission, is working hard with her staff to ensure all children in Maine have an arts education.

“It gives kids all kinds of skills that they can use in almost everything in life,” she said.

Richard spoke early Thursday at Thomas College as part of the business breakfast series hosted by Thomas and Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce. Her organization, a 50-year-old state agency governed by a 15-member governor-appointed panel, is funded by the Legislature and supported by the National Endowment for the Arts.

The state for the first time this year is partnering with Americans for the Arts on the Arts & Economic Prosperity 5 study, which explores the economic impact of spending by nonprofit arts and culture organizations and their audiences.

Waterville, through Waterville Creates!, is taking part in the study. Arts and cultural organizations are distributing surveys, and it is important that people fill them out, as the information will be critical to their receiving arts funding, Richard said Thursday.

Waterville also is seeking a Creative Communities = Economic Development Grant to support dialogue and partnerships between municipalities and the cultural sector to boost economic development in communities. Richard estimates the economic impact of the arts in Maine is $313 million. The state spends about 73 cents per capita on the arts.

In the audience Thursday were Amy Cyrway and her husband, Brian Vigue, who own The Framemakers in downtown Waterville.

Cyrway said she loved hearing what Richard had to say and she is excited that there is such a focus on arts and education, not only in the city, but also at the state level.

“I think it’s very inspiring,” Cyrway, who is president of the Waterville Area Arts Society, said. “I’m feeling very confident in the arts in Waterville. That’s our focus right now.”

Amy Calder can be contacted at 861-9247 or at:

[email protected]

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