David Greenham in his Gardiner home. Greenham, the current chairman of the Maine Arts Commission’s board, will become its interim director of the Maine Arts Commission in March, for a two-year term. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The Maine Arts Commission has hired its board chairman as its interim executive director, forgoing a job search in favor of expediency because of the crisis facing artists and arts groups and the need to distribute money quickly and efficiently. The hiring of a longtime insider for the top arts job in the state could be seen as working against the commission’s pledge for transparency and equity, but board members – and the governor – defend the move as necessary given the crisis facing arts groups in the months ahead.

When David Greenham begins his new job as executive director March 8, he will become the top administrator of the agency he currently supervises as chairman of its board, and has for the past two years. As executive director, he will be responsible for doling out tax dollars, funneled down from state coffers and the National Endowment for the Arts, to artists and arts groups across Maine. He inherits an agency that has been criticized as management-heavy, with six full-time and three part-time/contract positions, and at risk of becoming increasingly less relevant in the larger Maine arts landscape, especially as it relates to funding.

He will resign as commission chairman on Friday and begin as the commission’s executive director the following Monday, replacing the former director he once supervised.

Gov. Janet Mills, who has been in conversations with Greenham about the future of the arts agency for a year and endorsed his hiring, defended the unusual process and arrangement as necessary for the times. She said it was “not best practice for chairs of a commission to make the transition” to the commission staff as director, because commission members hire and supervise the director. But she thought it was appropriate in this instance, because Greenham knows how the commission works, understands its immediate and long-term needs, and has credibility with the Maine arts community at a time it’s critically needed, she said.

With the urgency of the pandemic and federal money in play from Washington, she wanted to fill the position quickly with someone who was familiar with the function of the arts commission, as well as its limits and flaws, and how it can be most useful and responsive. “I liked him well enough to make him chair; that was my appointment. And the rest of the commission liked him well enough to offer him the interim position. It is also my impression the commission staff worked well with him. He was a hands-on chair,” she said. “David knows how to work with a variety of personalities and how to get things done. He’s a consensus builder. He will lead in a good direction. There is no controversy with him.”

Greenham, 60, who lives in Gardiner, will replace Julie Richard, who resigned in November after eight years on the job. Richard, who now directs the Sedona Arts Center in Arizona, did not return a message to discuss the circumstances of her departure.


In an interview, Greenham pledged advocacy for the arts across all disciplines with an open-door policy. “It’s about building trust,” he said. “We’re going to be accessible, transparent and we are going to communicate, and we are especially eager to be in active partnership with the cultural community of the state and all others. We are limited by the funding we have, but we’re not limited by how we can be of service to the field beyond money. We want to be an organization that brings people together and shares information and makes connections, that helps organizations and especially helps leaders who are feeling isolated to feel less isolated.”

The Maine Arts Commission generally administers a little less than $700,000 in grants annually to artists and arts organizations in Maine, an amount critics say is too small and of limited impact given the agency’s overall budget of $1.865 million and the multimillions of dollars that flow into Maine, directly to artists and arts organizations, in fellowships, residencies, grants and other awards from foundations, corporations, companies and other grant-making entities. Last year, because of an influx of federal CARES Act money related to the pandemic, Maine Arts Commission grants rose to nearly $966,000. That figure also includes $73,000 raised through the commission’s nonprofit fundraising arm, ArtsEngageMe, and represents about 38 percent of its overall budget, a better efficiency than in the recent past but lower than many other rural states.

The arts community has a hot-and-cold relationship with the commission. At various times, the commission has been seen as favoring Maine’s deep visual arts community at the expense of the performing arts, particularly dance and theater. Artists and arts organizations have complained the grant process is cumbersome and burdensome given the levels of funding available, and others said the commission had forced organizations to hire certain contractors or consultants as conditions of grants.

The commission hired Greenham during a meeting Jan. 26 after discussing the matter in executive session. Greenham, who said his salary had not been finalized, will be paid between $78,062 and $111,508 annually, according to state records. Because he was leaving a secure position that he enjoyed, he said he asked for and received a two-year appointment. Greenham has worked at the Holocaust and Human Rights Center in Augusta for a decade, the past two years as associate director. He will remain in that position though March 5. He directed the Theater at Monmouth for 14 years, and also lectures in theater at the University of Maine at Augusta.

Maine artists and arts organizations face a critical year. Theaters are operating at limited capacity if they are operating at all, and the state’s summer theaters face a second season of reduced schedules, at best. Orchestras are performing to empty halls and streaming their concerts, or learning how to perform safely for small audiences. Many museums remain closed, with exhibitions moving online or curators holding them back until audiences are comfortable visiting again. And community arts organizations struggle to interpret whether public-health guidelines mean they should reopen or remain closed.

Curt Dale Clark, artistic director at Maine State Music Theatre, said the most important role of the commission is one of advocacy, and he hopes Greenham’s background in theater bodes well for Maine’s performing arts organizations as they try to figure out how to survive a second year of the pandemic. “I think he can do that quite well, if he chooses to,” Clark said, adding that Maine’s performing arts groups have sometimes felt neglected by the arts commission. “As long as the goal is to help us and not just the artists on Monhegan, then everything should go quite well,” he said.


Caroline Koelker, executive director at Opera Maine, said arts groups need accurate and current information as they make decisions about programming, and it’s essential they have open, trustworthy communications with the commission. “The nonprofit arts community looks to the Maine Arts Commission for support, especially during these difficult times we are all facing,” she said. Koelker also said the length of the interim appointment made her curious about the hiring process, and she wondered if other candidates had been considered, internally or externally. She also wondered how commissioners would evaluate Greenham’s performance during what could be a make-or-break period for many arts groups in Maine.

Marcia Minter, co-founder of Indigo Arts Alliance and a commission member, supported Greenham’s hiring and two-year appointment. That amount of time will allow him to work through the evolving pandemic and help the commission and staff through a national search for a new director, she said. “He is serving as interim executive director, and that will enable us not to rush to make any decisions. It also will enable us to have time to think about the commission in new and fresh ways, given the significant impact COVID has had on the arts community, particularly the performing arts,” she said. “It requires a pause and a step back to assess and think about the role the arts commission can play in our communities.”

With a maximum grant for individual artists of $5,000, the Maine Arts Commission cannot pay many artists’ rents or mortgages or buy their groceries for more than a few months, and its ability to help arts presenters through the pandemic will have more to do with providing guidance about reopening safely so they can employ artists again than anything resembling a bailout. But before it can do any of that effectively, it also must earn back the trust and attention of an arts community that has learned to work around the commission, opting to pursue opportunities through other funders and sources, making the commission less effective and relevant, observers say.

Maine poet laureate Stuart Kestenbaum, whose role is supported by the commission and who worked as its assistant director before becoming the longtime and now former director of Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, said the commission had “lost the sense of being essential” over time as the arts community grew up around it. Part of Greenham’s job will be figuring out how to serve individual artists effectively, as well as arts groups of various sizes during a time of crisis – no small task, he said.

Kestenbaum thinks Greenham is the “perfect person at the right time. David understands how government works. He knows who to talk to, and he also knows what organizations need,” Kestenbaum said. “In the last period of time, many arts organizations in Maine have grown on their own and eclipsed the services the arts commission used to provide. Right now, the most important role the arts commission can play is to be an advocate for what those needs are now and what those needs will be post-pandemic. David has a sense of what a state arts agency can do and how it can be responsible and it can be an advocate.”

Members of the commission who supported Greenham’s hiring said the need for immediate and experienced leadership at the agency outweighed the necessity of a job search. Commission member Chris Newell, executive director at the Abbe Museum and senior partner to Wabanaki Nations, said “a time-consuming search” for a new director would have been detrimental to the commission’s work at a time when it’s needed most. Newell, who joined the commission late last year, supported the hiring. “While I cannot report to you things that were said in executive session, I can say there was a recognition from all parties, including the staff, that this process was far from perfect,” he wrote in an email. “As a new board member I can definitely agree with that. It’s an issue that I and others plan to address going forward so we do not find ourselves in this position again in the future. However, in defense of the decision, when it came down to it, David was truly a great fit for the position.”

Commission member, photographer and gallerist Peter Ralston called the hiring “odd but not unheard of,” and said Greenham’s request for a two-year appointment was fair “since he was willing to walk away from a perfectly good job to do this on an interim basis. If anything, that takes guts,” Ralston said. “This is an interim position. This does not mean he will be executive director forever. It’s a two-year appointment; I don’t think it is at all inappropriate.”

Greenham becomes director of the Maine Arts Commission at the same time that U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine, D-1st District, becomes the new chair of a powerful House appropriations subcommittee that oversees funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and other cultural agencies. Greenham’s best chance to increase funding and improve efficiency starts in Washington, where Pingree will have more control over purse strings. As the chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee for Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, Pingree has substantial power and influence, with Democrats in control of the House, Senate and White House.

Pingree has positioned herself as an arts advocate and worked with Republicans in rural states to build bipartisan support for arts funding and blunt efforts by the Trump administration to defund the arts. Last week, she touted support for a COVID-19 package that included $135 million each for the NEA and the National Endowment for the Humanities, along with $200 million for the Institute of Museum and Library Services to support heavily impacted organizations. Eventually, some of that will trickle down to Maine and be distributed, in small amounts, to artists and arts groups across the state by the Maine Arts Commission.

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