SOUTH PORTLAND — On July 20, the South Portland City Council passed a resolution supporting an arts grantmaking program from local nonprofit, SPACE 538.

The resolution allows the Portland-based organization to apply for grant funding that can be awarded to local artists, said Kelsey Halliday Johnson, executive director of SPACE, which is seeking to apply for an American Rescue Plan Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Each year in the past seven years, SPACE has awarded grant funding to South Portland individuals, Halliday Johnson said. SPACE has distributed grants through the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and project grants for multimedia artists and musicians began during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On July 20, the South Portland City Council passed a resolution supporting an arts grantmaking program from local nonprofit, SPACE 538. A resolution passed by the South Portland City Council allows Portland-based SPACE 538 to apply for grant funding that can be awarded to local artists, said Kelsey Halliday Johnson, executive director of SPACE. Courtesy photo

If funding is received from the NEA, SPACE will be able to award local artists with $5,000 grants, she said.

“I’m really looking forward to doing this and I hope that South Portland can help us become eligible because it’s a truly game-changing amount of money from what we usually administer throughout the state, and if we have this federal funding in addition to the Andy Warhol Foundation money, I’m pretty confident that our arts will rebound and there will be, what I call, a real renaissance after the plague,” Halliday Johnson said.

Funding from SPACE has been statewide, she said.

“(T)hese would be $5,000 grants that would really be transformational for young creatives, emerging creatives, and established creatives who have had a particularly hard time during the pandemic,” Halliday Johnson said.

Assistant City Manager Joshua Reny said South Portland itself is not applying for the grant, but rather is recognizing the value the grant would have on the community. There will not be money going to the city.

“We’re just essentially endorsing that they are doing this in our community,” he said.

Councilors asked Halliday Johnson questions about the logistics and application process and were generally in favor of the resolution.

Councilor Kate Lewis said, “I think that you’re proposing something that can be extraordinary for the city and appreciate you want to partner with us as a municipality.”

From a fiscal viewpoint, there is no impact on the city, said Mayor Misha Pride.

“I think support for the arts in general is lacking and I think that artists have definitely suffered a lot from the pandemic and before then, so I am very happy that we can help out,” he said.

Public commenters were in support of the resolution, including Margaret Brownlee, a South Portland resident who said she works for the Maine College of Art and sees a high demand of similar programs.

“It’s extremely important,” she said. “I just see it as a wonderful idea, especially now with COVID. It’s a great opportunity to bring experimentation, risk, critical dialogue and bring community engagement.”

Jim Flahaven, resident and member of South Portland’s Arts and Historic Preservation Committee, said he supported the resolution, too.

SPACE is hoping to apply for either a $250,000 or $500,000 grant amount that would last two years from the National Endowment for the Arts, Halliday Johnson said.

“We’re hoping that about 50 $500,000 grants will be administered, which will be a pretty profound impact on the greater region,” she said.

According to the organization’s website, SPACE 538 “is a nonprofit organization that supports contemporary arts projects, champions artists, and encourages an open exchange of ideas.”

For more information about SPACE, visit space538.org.

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