The Maine Arts Commission believes its latest grant program is so big and so bold that it’s tough to define what the winning projects will look like.
Whatever the final outcome, the goal of the Creative Communities=Economic Development grant program is to provide Maine’s community cultural groups with money to contribute to plans and initiatives that stimulate the local economy, strengthen the role of arts and culture, and enhance a community’s quality of life.
The Augusta-based commission announced earlier this week it will award two grants, worth a maximum of $50,000 each, to community arts organizations, which the commission’s assistant director, Alison Ferris, said come up with ideas that would have a big impact in a community.
“We want to it to be something that really moves the community to commit to art in a different way, in a big way,” she said. “It could be something that will [provide] a notable economic boost, something that will stimulate the economy. I’m still struggling to figure it out. It’s a complicated and big idea, and broad enough because we realize each community is different and distinct. We can’t be really specific.”
Grant winners must provide a 1-to-1 match.
Organizations interested in applying for one of the grants have until March 8 to submit a letter of interest. The application deadline is Oct. 7, and the project must take place by Oct. 6, 2011.
The concept developed through conversations among arts commission staff members about how to define what a community is, and what the idea of community means today, and particularly the meaning of community art.
“We really wanted to activate this whole idea of quality of place and show that the arts are an economic asset in Maine,” she said. “Through that, we’re hoping to provide inspiration to arts organizations and communities to take hold of that idea and run with it.”
Ferris said broad examples of grant-worthy projects might include groups who want to collaborate on downtown revitalization programs or cities that want to fund art in a municipal budget, or organizations interested in starting new projects.
Ferris said Maine, a place to which artists and their patrons have flocked for generations, is the perfect setting an examination of the meaning of art in a community.
The commission estimates there are 68,000 people working in arts or creative industries, which is roughly 8 percent of the state’s work force.
Ferris said community arts organizations came into fashion in the 1960s and 1970s as alternatives to what some artists and community organizers perceived as more formal, traditional arts entities such as museums, theaters and symphonies.
Today, she added, many community arts organizations offer classes, support performances, provide exhibition space, offer lecture series, and provide other services for artistic outlets, as well as building and nurturing arts audiences.
“We want this to educate people as to how important the arts are and how much money they do bring in,” Ferris said.
“There really is this interesting history in Maine, with artists in 1840s and 1850s started the whole tourist industry, because their patrons wanted to come check out the scenery. We should be supporting artists because they still do that for Maine. Their voices are important.”
For information go to mainearts.maine.gov/grant_creativecommunities.aspx