About 200 artists, creative entrepreneurs, community leaders and big thinkers gathered at Ocean Gateway in Portland on Tuesday to try to figure out how to turn Portland into a world-class art community – or make people aware that it already is.

Creative Portland, the city’s arts agency, hosted the Portland Arts & Culture Summit to talk about its newly adopted strategic plan and the best way to implement it, with morning sessions focused on key themes of the plan and the afternoon dedicated to how to put them into action.

Creative Portland Executive Director Dinah Minott Creative Portland/Courtesy photo


“The goal is to implement the cultural plan and not just talk about it,” said David Brenerman, Creative Portland’s board president. “The City Council endorsed the plan early this year, and now we have to make it happen. That’s why we are here.”

Creative Portland’s cultural plan includes three key elements: Celebrating and branding Portland as a creative city; providing professional support for artists and creative entrepreneurs, including performance opportunities and access to exhibition space; maintaining and growing live-work space in the city, as well as additional performance space or an arts center.

The plan recognizes that Portland’s arts and cultural assets, and their branding and marketing, are an important part of the city’s economic development strategy and can attract a strong workforce and successful firms, as well as sustain a positive quality of life.

The report also suggests that Portland hasn’t invested enough in the arts and that it is not doing enough to leverage the arts into more economic growth overall. Tuesday’s meeting aimed to address those concerns, and others, by creating a platform for discussion that will lead to action.

Among the challenges facing artists are affordable housing and studio space, limited exhibition space and money.

Tuesday’s conference was the second hosted by Creative Portland, and Brenerman said it would be an annual event. He and Creative Portland Executive Director Dinah Minot both said they were encouraged with the turnout and pleased by the substance of the discussions. The daylong conference drew arts leaders from across the spectrum in Portland, including the people who run arts organizations, foundation directors, policy makers, housing developers and artists themselves.

They talked about the challenges of affordable housing in Portland, the cost and convenience, or lack thereof, of parking and public transportation and their impact on arts organizations, as well as the need to encourage private investment in the arts, especially among young people and newcomers to the city.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, stopped by in the morning to talk about the importance of the arts as an economic catalyst statewide and tout the work that she and her colleagues in Washington, D.C., are doing to ensure that funding for the arts continues at the federal level, despite attempts by the Trump administration to eliminate it. The arts contribute $1.5 billion to Maine’s economy every year and have created more than 16,000 jobs in the state, Pingree said.

“As the vice chair of the Interior Appropriations Committee, I’m proud to have secured $12.5 million increases for both the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities in the fiscal year 2020 budget. As we’ve seen throughout Maine, that federal investment can translate into significant economic success for cultural hubs like Portland,” she said.

In his keynote address, Idexx founder and arts supporter David Shaw talked about his experience in business and how those experiences might translate into Portland’s becoming a world-class art city. He spoke of the importance of place, community and cooperation in building successful companies, including Idexx, which he founded 35 years ago in Portland and moved to Westbrook to overcome zoning issues.

“Thirty-five years later, I feel like it’s a different story. Portland is a different place,” Shaw said.

Suzanne Larsen, executive director of the Dorothea and Leo Rabkin Foundation, urged artists, arts administrators and others to look beyond Maine when developing resources and promoting work. To truly succeed, she said, Portland needs to be visible nationally “and we need to draw energy and resources from across the country. Think big,” Larsen said.

Longtime Portland artist and public art advocate Alice Spencer spoke about the need for private investment in the arts, particularly among newcomers. “If they want to live in this city as rich as it is in arts and culture, they need to invest in it,” she said.

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