Creative Communities

 

The “Maine’s Creative Communities” initiative has evolved from our award-winning and nationally-recognized “Imagination Intensive Communities” program, and seeks to assist towns and cities throughout the state to leverage their arts and cultural resources for both economic development and improved arts education for youth. The program seeks to bring together all sector leaders (arts, performance venues, education, transportation, government, business, hospitality, etc.) for informal discussions leading to concrete goals and implementation plans that will raise the profile of the arts and cultural sectors for the benefit of all.

These edited notes from a series of meetings held in Bath between April and June 2013 provide an excellent example of how the program works. The meetings were attended by about 20 community leaders:

Attending 4/20/13:
Martha Mayo, Jennifer Geiger, Susan McChesney, Janice Kauer, Johannah Harkness, Peter Alexander

Attending 4/27/13:
Carolyn Lockwood, Weibke Theodore, Jennifer DeChant, Joanne Marco, Johannah Harkness, Gretchen Jaeger, Louanne Schoninger, Peter Alexander

Attending 6/2/13:
Jennifer DeChant, Thom Watson, Peter Alexander, Sharon Bouchard, Laurie Burhoe, Johnna Stanton,
Brian Stanton, Sharon Pyne, Steve Marois

Also Invited (but not able to attend):
Elisabeth Knowlton, Andy Winglass, Tori Jackson, Barrie Sturgeon, Becky Kolak, Carrie Kinne, Betsy Fear, Barbara Bowers, Amy Lent, Patrick Manuel, Constance Panetski, Joe Byrnes, Earl Bigelow, Katie Winglass, Max Ater, Aaron Nadeau, Lauren Crosby, Carter Ruff, Tony Bushnell, Josephine Gaska, Andrew Deci.

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Peter Alexander started each meeting by outlining the findings of a program his organization, Maine Alliance for Arts & Education (MAAE), had conducted in 2009-2010, called Imagination Intensive Communities (IIC). That program had as its goal to identify communities in Maine that are exceptional at nurturing creativity and innovation. Not too surprisingly, the communities that rose to the top were those that had very strong arts education programs, both in the public schools and in the private sector. These communities also had very strong visual and performing arts sectors, and also tended to be wealthier, coastal towns and cities. The most salient feature they all had in common, however, was the passion of a few community members who were the leaders and innovators and the driving force behind both the cultural and economic vitality of the community. From this program MAAE drew some key conclusions:

1) Arts education programs in schools flourish in communities with a strong cultural (visual and performing arts) sector.
2) There is a strong correlation between economic vitality and a community’s cultural resources (including arts education programming in schools).
3) The communities that scored best in the IIC program were those in which there was a lot of cross-sector communication, planning, and collaboration.

MAAE further concluded that there are many communities in Maine that are at a “tipping point”—where a modest effort of bringing sector leaders together (to assess resources and do some collaborative planning) could have very significant positive impacts. It was determined that the communities most likely to benefit from such an initiative are those that already have both an Art Walk and a Main Street Program. These currently include Bath, Belfast, Biddeford, Bar Harbor, Brunswick, Eastport, Presque-Isle, Gardiner, and Rockland. Since Peter lives in Bath, it was an obvious choice as a pilot.

With this introduction and background, discussions ensued at each meeting and identified a number of key factors, challenges, and opportunities in Bath.

IDEAS:

1) Transportation: various options and opportunities were discussed:
a. bring Downeaster or other passenger rail service to Bath
b. provide shuttle or trolley service between Bath and the train station in Brunswick
c. entice people to stop in Bath who are headed north on Rt 1
d. get people to utilize the existing bus service in Bath

2) Funding: Although there is general agreement that more funding for the arts is needed, there are many potential sources, including but not limited to:
a. Maine Arts Commission “Creative Community = Economic Development” grants
b. ArtPlace grants (Eastport got $250,000 last year)
c. National Endowment for the Arts
d. National Endowment for the Humanities
e. Many private foundations

3) Our community has some amazing facilities, some of which are underutilized (or in need of funding to become fully functional); among them:
a. Chocolate Church Arts Center
b. Freight Shed
c. Winter Street Church
d. Custom House
e. Centre Street Arts Co-op
f. 2nd Floor of 72 Front Street (awesome hallway and many art studios)
g. Maine Maritime Museum
h. Morse High auditorium

4) There were questions about the role of music and live performance, and more generally about the entertainment needs and preferences of the community. Participants were very interested in learning more about the survey on this topic that was commissioned by Main Street Bath.

5) It was suggested that we should form a “Bath Arts Alliance” of some kind that would work to promote and facilitate visual and performing arts and arts education in the community. (There was caution expressed that this shouldn’t be an agency or another non-profit that organizes events—but should serve a facilitating and organizing role.)

6) It was suggested that we might try to get an “artist in residence” with lodging provided by the Cosmopolitan Club: perhaps a graffiti artist who could teach high school students the art of graffiti using discarded sails as “canvasses,” instead of city walls and underpasses.

7) It was agreed that the enthusiasm of everyone in the room was an indicator that we were onto something good and that we should continue by engaging a wider circle of participants with one or two additional meetings before settling on a specific set of goals and objectives.

8) Bath needs a clearing house for coordinating organizations’ schedules.

9) Centre Street Coop is talking about offering classes for students. Maybe during vacations

10) Student Advanced Placement portfolios could use a professional eye before they are sent away. Could Coop or others provide this service?

11) How about a Senior art show? Connect students with retired artists.

12) An Art Volunteer Club: kids who don’t need to be on stage, but could be involved in operations (at CCAC). Perhaps workshops for kids (middle school and younger)

13) Gardening and Cooking?

14) Laurie: growing up there was someone giving classes at home, and it evolved to a community arts center—it provided an amazing resource for kids (like the skate park, but for art). A place kids could go to after school. Winter street and CCAC both have space that could be used for this.

15) Mentoring program—putting students with professionals in the community,

16) Kids want to build out their resumes, and having them volunteer at local cultural institutions would be a good way: ushering at CCAC, Docent at MMM, hosting at Coop on a Saturday…

17) Talk with Community Service Advisors at HS—they are always looking for ways that the kids can engage. Suggestion: a fall night volunteer open house where community agencies could come and offer opportunities.

18) Art Co-op needs a webpage: can a student do this?

19) What is the community interested in for classes and workshops and other activities? Pottery, ceramics, sculpture? Film? Film festival? Photography?

20) Dance: many classes at Bath Dance Works (72 Front Street). There are children’s classes already…..Music Together and Music Lessons but they would love to have more dance for children. The space has available times for more classes. There is a calendar on the website….www.bathdanceworks.com.

21) Lots of things going on; how can we get the word out there about resources? How about an insert in the local rags? Or a web-based index of resources (where can you rent a room to teach a yoga class…?)

22) Brunswick Library does a community resource directory (booklet). Can we get and copy the format? Sharon will get a copy.

23) Maybe the kids can be involved in collecting and collating the info.

24) How can we enhance the offerings of BCTV for HS students? Fully professional studio! Steve can teach anyone to use the equipment—and wants to!

25) Challenge: How to excite the students: need to find the leaders. Let people be the leaders that they really are and they will step up and surprise us!

26) People need to be trained in how to communicate concisely about what they have to offer or what they have going on.

27) Steve (BCTV) would like to have a few students who are able to be called out of class to film special events.

28) Could students utilize the City Bus in order to take advantage of after school activities in Bath?

29) More public art would be a way to get people coming to Bath. More Sculpture?

Next Steps:
1) Participants to review meeting notes, suggesting corrections and additions
2) Reconvene full group-of-the-willing to determine key goals and objectives and develop work plan.

If you are interested in helping start a Creative Communities initiative in your community, please contact Peter Alexander (peter -at- maineartsed -dot- org).