When Daniel Minter gets together with his artist friend David Driskell, sometimes they talk about art. But mostly they just talk about whatever comes up.

“We can be talking about growing beans and I feel like I have learned as much as if I was in his class for a semester,” said Minter, a Portland artist.

Beginning this spring, Minter, Driskell and other artists of color will have a community space where they can talk about making art, growing beans and fitting in as minority artists in a state with an art history that is overwhelmingly populated by white men of yesteryear. The Indigo Arts Alliance will open this spring in a new building at 60 Cove St. in East Bayside as a hybrid studio and community work space that will pair professional and emerging artists of color in a mentor-mentee relationship. It’s designed to amplify the creative voices and artistic vision of Portland’s growing community of diverse artists, and particularly Maine-based artists of African descent, and its presence reflects Portland’s emergence as a city with a contemporary art scene big enough to support a specific community of artists, said Marcia Minter, a creative director at L.L. Bean and board member of the Portland Museum of Art, Portland Ovations, Maine Media Workshops and other organizations, who founded the alliance with her husband, Daniel.

David Driskell

“The model we are creating is intended to foster the development, advancement and exposure of emerging and professional black artists with an open door to all people of color,” she said. “We plan to establish an environment and community platform where established artists of color work in their practice, connect to other artists and to the local community in newly imagined ways. These artists will be inspired to apply for our artist residencies and will be motivated to use our dynamic platform to cultivate new collaborations, audiences and engagement practices and to give back by mentoring another artist of color, across generational divides.”

Over the 15 years they’ve lived in Portland, the Minters have observed the city become “visibly younger” while the world as whole has become more accessible. As a result, Portland feels more connected to the larger world and ready to support an arts organization dedicated “to the advancement and exposure of artists of African descent with an open door to all people of color,” Marcia Minter said.

GATHERING SPACE

Doing so satisfies a long-held dream of the couple. They have lived in Atlanta, Seattle, Chicago, New York and Brazil before Portland. A common theme among those places was a lack of art space dedicated specifically to “folks of color” where self-expression was nurtured and creativity incubated, she said. A financial gift from an anonymous donor enabled them to launch their project in Portland, she said.

Work is underway on a 4,000-square-foot building that will serve multiple functions. It will be a workplace, where artists can plan and execute art projects in a range of media. It will be an incubator, where ideas are cultivated and shared. And it will be an exhibition space, where artists can show their work and begin developing audiences. Although the visiting artists will be considered artists in residence, city zoning does not permit actual residency so the artists will live as guests of the community.

But the space will function as a residency, where experienced artists will be given time and space to explore new ideas while hosting workshops, seminars and symposiums that are open to artists of color from Maine. Daniel Minter compared having that collaborative opportunity to being a musician always practicing alone in a studio to one gigging with a band.

“You can’t create a great jazz band if you don’t play out with other musicians,” he said. “Your ability and skill may increase, but your inspiration and intuition will suffer if you don’t collaborate. We want to create a space where you can work with other people, share ideas and see what you create.”

Driskell, a painter and printmaker and leading scholar of African-American art, is serving as a senior adviser to Indigo. He has deep roots in Maine, with a home in Falmouth and an art-making history here that dates to 1953 when he attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture.

Among his honors, he received the Presidential Medal from President Bill Clinton in 2000, and the David C. Driskell Center for the Study of the African Diaspora was founded on his retirement in 1998 from the University of Maryland, where he remains art professor emeritus.

Although it’s the least diverse state in the country, Maine is a good place for this initiative because Maine has always been open to new ideas in art, Driskell said, and welcoming to any artist willing to do the work.

“Most people wouldn’t be looking for this to be happening in the state of Maine. They always think of Maine as the whitest state,” he said in a phone interview from his winter home in Maryland. “But Maine is a place where the arts have thrived for hundreds of years and where the creative spirit has been welcomed in so many ways. I told Marcia and Daniel, this sounds like something that will enhance the whole cultural scene.”

MAKING ROLE MODELS

Indigo Arts Alliance is working with Creative Portland as a fiscal partner so it can raise money for the project. It’s on target for a spring opening. The first artist in residence, Eneida Sanches, an Afro-Brazilian visual artist, will come to Portland in June. Driskell, Minter and Curlee Holton will offer a printmaking class in the summer. The alliance participated in the For Freedoms national civic engagement campaign and is planning two community events in the spring, an African Diaspora Film Series with Space gallery and a two-day Welcome Table gathering of cultural activists around the themes of visual art, dance, music, cooking and community building.

Minter said it’s essential to his artistic practice to associate with other artists. “I’m at a point where it’s almost impossible for me to envision myself as an artist without engaging in the community of other artists of color,” he said. “For me, we are creating the room at Indigo to birth ideas that value our past and our future.”

As to why Portland, Marcia Minter said, “because we are here. We want to live fully where we are. We care deeply about Portland and want to be part of the fabric of the place,” she said. “We feel like we can do this here. We think Portland wants and needs it.”

Sophia Namara, 25, communications manager at the Portland Museum of Art, said the alliance will help bridge a gap between emerging and established artists and “between Maine’s historical past and its diverse present.”

There are few artists of color as role models in Maine, she said, forcing others “to look up to white men of yesterday or go elsewhere to develop careers or networks. The greatest thing about Indigo is not that it’s a community center, but a place for serious collaboration to happen between emerging and established artists, where people will be making things and working hard, and there will be an outcome and a product that will exist in Portland. This will encourage artists of color to come to Portland and stay in Portland.”

Chanel Lewis, 27, sees Indigo as a recruitment tool for people of color to come to Portland. She grew up in Portland, moved away for college and recently returned to Maine with the intent of setting down her roots. She had to convince her husband, the performing artist Just Plain Jones, that Portland and Maine would be a good home for them. The Indigo Arts Alliance offers something more tangible than hope that artists of color can make a home here too, said Lewis, who lives in Westbrook.

“This is proof that there are people here who look like me who are making their legacy here and who are committed to being here and committed to see what this city and what this state can look like,” she said. “It’s about imagining, dreaming big and going after it.”

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

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Twitter: pphbkeyes


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