June 25, 2018
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NEA chairman lauds creative economy

By Jessica Bloch, BDN Staff

The U.S. government’s top arts executive told his counterpart in Maine he’s looking to the Pine Tree State for examples of how art can be done well in communities without a lot of resources.

He may even come to Maine for a firsthand look.

Rocco Landesman, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, met Tuesday afternoon with Maine Arts Commission Director Donna McNeil and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree at Pingree’s office in Washington, D.C.

“I think today marks the first in a series of fruitful conversations with the NEA and with Rep. Pingree’s office,” McNeil said Tuesday afternoon. “I’m very thrilled with today.”

McNeil and Pingree invited Landesman to visit, although they agreed to give him a pass on coming in the winter. McNeil said she suggested he time his visit with the American Folk Festival in Bangor, which takes place in August.

“We were talking maybe … we’d plug him into a few events,” McNeil said. “He didn’t give a definitive [response] on that, but he did express interest. His schedule is really, really pressed. But I’m sure he will come to Maine. He has a great affinity and respect for Maine.”

If Landesman does visit this summer, it will be far from his first time in Maine.

Landesman, who became well known as a Broadway producer, attended Colby College in Waterville for two years in the late 1960s. Although he eventually graduated from the University of Wisconsin, Landesman served as a Colby overseer from 1991 to 1995 and was awarded an honorary degree from Colby in 1995.

He also started the Landesman Scholarship Fund at Colby to support students from New York City.

The three officials met Tuesday for about an hour. Landesman himself initiated the contact with McNeil when he called her in November — a call that came out of the blue, she said — to talk about Maine’s creative economy initiatives.

“The quote from him was that, the NEA is talking the talk, but Maine is walking the walk,” McNeil said. “I think we have seen a lot of economic and downtown revitalization that has been stimulated by arts and culture. It is making towns like Rockland and Eastport and Stonington and Portland and Biddeford and Westbrook really wonderful places to go and to visit and live.”

Maine has a Creative Economy Council and in 2004 held its first Blaine House Conference on the Creative Economy. Other similar conferences in Maine have included Juice 2.0, which was held in November in Camden.

McNeil told Landesman about the Maine Arts Commission’s latest effort, the Creative Communities=Economic Development program, which will 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.

Grants worth $50,000 each will go to two communities.

“The NEA is in complete alignment with that, and [Pingree’s] office is saying, $50,000 isn’t enough,” McNeil said. “I said, come on and help us. We are looking to expand that money by partnerships with unexpected sectors, economic development certainly, maybe agriculture in some of our more rural communities, maybe some transportation or infrastructure.”

Pingree said Landesman is looking for places with strong creative economies that can serve as models for other communities.

“I think he’s heard a lot about the fact that Maine has done a tremendous amount in encouraging the creative economy with very little money, and in tough economic times he’s looking for examples of how to do that even more,” she said. “He thought Maine would be a good example for other states that might be less far down this road.”

The artists, performers and craftspeople who are part of the creative economy contribute to the state’s economy as a whole, Pingree said.

“Maine is a tourism state, but the tourists who come visit cultural attractions often spend more, stay longer, take advantage of more of the opportunities, and they do it in a beautiful place,” she said. “So I can see the economic benefit of this and would like to see ways to enhance it in more communities.”

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