This week, hundreds of performance artists from around Maine and the country are taking part in the seventh annual PortFringe festival. At venues across Portland’s Arts District, these artists are blowing minds and raising eyebrows, giving audiences experiences unlike anything they’ll get elsewhere. This is a week of bold experimentation, creative collaboration and exciting risk-taking that pays off for performers and the public alike.

For many participants, and certainly for us PortFringe organizers, it is a week of resistance. Resistance to the growing tides of corporatization and inequality, even within the realm of arts and culture. To the forces of injustice that infect every sector – yes, even theater. It’s a week that attempts to raise up the little guy, and to remind folks why that matters.

In the 70 or so years since the “fringe” concept was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, hundreds of fringe festivals have sprung up all over the world.

But not all fringe festivals are alike.

Some are non-juried, by-lottery festivals (like ours), while others use panels of judges or selection committees to choose shows. Some are affordable for artists, while others require hefty application and/or participation fees (we’re talking thousands of dollars, in some cases). Keeping our lottery system in place and our fees low helps build an equitable festival that’s accessible to all.

Some are all-volunteer operations (like PortFringe), while others employ staff members to the tune of six figures. Some are sponsored by huge corporations. Some aren’t (like us). Some give all ticket proceeds to the artists (us again). Some don’t. You get the picture.

Bottom line, our festival isn’t about the bottom line – even as we grow, attracting increasing numbers of out-of-town touring acts each year and pouring money into the local creative economy, we strive to keep the artist experience front and center.

Of course, it’s not imperative that every fringe festival operate the same way, nor is it our goal to change the way other festivals do their thing. But Portland’s fringe festival makes every decision based on ideals upon which the very concept of “fringe” was built. We always have, and we always will.

See, the fringe festival was born in 1947 in Edinburgh when a group of artists essentially said, “The hell with these elitists who only want a wealthy public to see their mainstream productions. We’re taking our raw, dirty, heartfelt, incredibly valid art straight to the people!” And they did, showing unconventional shows in nontraditional venues, and it was awesome and super-validating for everyone, and some people liked it better than the fancy theater stuff. Which, in turn, started a movement. Turned out, people didn’t want to pay half their rent to see the same stuff everyone else was seeing. People were hungry for the chance to take risks.

They still are.

And that’s why we at PortFringe do what we do, the way that we do it. We think it’s important to carve out space for people to take creative risks, on stage and off. We build the infrastructure: lining up venues, staffing box offices, selling tickets, making programs, drumming up publicity, manning a website and whatever else we need to do to get seven days of 125 shows to run smoothly. We keep the barriers low. As a result, artists are free to simply … do art. And we’re treated to a week of things we’ve never seen before, stories we’ve never heard. We get inspired, or cry, or laugh, or get mad. Even a show that offends (and that takes quite a lot here) offers the chance to better understand the world outside of ourselves.

This is a form of resistance. Not because it is overtly political – most of it isn’t – but because it embodies ideals that run counter to toxic trends in our society.

Indeed, as conservative forces attempt to gut arts funding, we remind people that you really can make money by making art. As a corporate mindset spreads through our city, our country, our government and our organizations, we show that grass roots theater, made possible by a creative community coming together, is truly viable. As the daily dumpster fire of avarice and malfeasance burns up the underdog, we promise that resistance is growing on the fringe.