June 20, 2018
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The Portland arts pay for themselves

Josh Noel, Chicago Tribune | MCT
Josh Noel, Chicago Tribune | MCT
Ellen Sherwood (right), a student at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies, takes a portrait of a passer-by for an art project in Portland, Maine in March 2012.


You don’t have to be a museum-goer to understand the importance of art. The arts make their value known in workers who have design skills and help develop new technology. Creativity is an essential part of expanding new product lines. A vibrant arts scene creates an enjoyable place to live and draws workers and businesses.

Architecture, marketing, engineering and graphic design all require artistry, and of course so do art galleries, music groups and theaters. The creative economy provides jobs, boosts the tourism industry and supports ancillary services.

Now, Mainers have hard data on the value of the arts. According to a survey completed by Americans for the Arts, Portland in particular has a healthy nonprofit arts and culture sector that generates $49.1 million per year, supports 1,535 full-time-equivalent jobs and provides $5.7 million in local and state government revenues.

The report, part of the study Arts & Economic Prosperity IV, is based on 38 surveyed nonprofits and 738 audience members. It considers only nonprofits and does not take into consideration commercial activity.

Still, it gives Portland a baseline from which to measure future arts-related growth. And it shows that the creative economy has promise. An average of about 5 percent of businesses in Cumberland County are arts-centric, compared with about 3 percent nationally.

With a creative density that’s higher than other areas with similar populations, Portland will do well to continue its work to sustain and grow the arts community by developing affordable housing and continue its branding programs.

The nonprofit Creative Portland, for example, funds the LiveWorkPortland marketing campaign to increase the visibility of Portland’s creative community. Another initiative, called 2 Degrees Portland, is a network of people aimed at drawing more entrepreneurs to the area.

The creative community has received support from the Portland City Council and the state and federal government. That should continue. And other towns and cities should aim for similar successes. Rockland is also a good example to follow. The head of the National Endowment for the Arts visited the city recently and called it a poster child for how the arts can revitalize a community.

Centers of art — whether they are a single institution like the Stonington Opera House or a series of events like the First Friday Artwalk in Portland — help make communities attractive places to live and work, draw new talented residents and give Maine’s young adults another reason to raise families here. The creative economy has helped redefine the city of Lowell, Mass., turning the former mill town into a destination for artists and innovators. We’re glad Portland appears to be following suit — but, of course, in its own, creative way.

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