BANGOR, Maine — City councilors on Wednesday approved two grant requests totaling $23,000 that were submitted by the Commission on Cultural Development, but they also used the time to begin a broader discussion of the commission’s long-term future.
The Penobscot Theatre Company was awarded $18,000 for its production of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and the Bangor Symphony Orchestra will receive $5,000 to fund a Know Your Orchestra voucher program for area schools.
Steve Ribble, chairman of the cultural commission, said Penobscot Theatre and the Bangor Symphony were appropriate for grants because their projects were collaborative in nature and appeal to a broad cross-section of the community.
Councilors agreed. “Since we gave the commission authority to research and make these decisions, it’s kind of difficult to go against their recommendations,” Councilor David Nealley said.
Added Councilor Pat Blanchette: “They have been frugal almost to the point of being cheap. … I mean that as a compliment.”
The Commission on Cultural Development was created in 2005 with an initial appropriation of $100,000 from the city’s general fund that has been replenished each year. The initial goal was to use the money to fund worthwhile arts and cultural events in Bangor, but for the first five years, a majority of the money went to help fund the American Folk Festival.
Last year, when the city ended its official relationship with the nonprofit festival, the cultural commission no longer supported the event. That fact, coupled with growing municipal budget concerns, prompted the City Council to forgo making an appropriation for the 2010-11 fiscal year. The commission has been operating on a carry-over balance that now sits at about $25,000 after the two recent grant awards. The deadline for the next award cycle, for requests of less than $2,000, is April 1.
As this year’s budget takes shape in the coming months, councilors soon will have to decide how much they are willing to support arts and culture through the commission.
“The greatness of a city is measured a great deal by its diversity of offerings,” Councilor Nelson Durgin said. “I’m proud of what this commission has done.”
Ribble said he and other members of the cultural commission have agreed that now is a great time to revisit the group’s mission. They plan to discuss ideas at their next meeting later this month, and Ribble invited councilors to sit in.
Before 2005, if a nonprofit organization sought funding from the city, it would go directly to the council, which often did not have enough time or expertise to give the request thoughtful consideration.
For the most part, the commission has been interested in offering startup or seed money to fledgling organizations. In other cases, the commission has rewarded specific arts events rather than providing funds to support general operations.
Historically, aside from the folk festival, the Penobscot Theatre has received funds from the cultural commission in every year except 2010. Other organizations that have received funds include the Maine Discovery Museum, the Bangor Book Festival and the Downtown Countdown New Year’s Eve celebration.