MADAWASKA, Maine — With just over a year to go until the opening ceremonies, the 2014 World Acadian Congress got a financial shot in the arm this week with the announcement of a $50,000 Our Town grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to the Association culturelle et historique du Mont-Carmel, operators of the Musee culturel du Mont-Carmel.
The Our Town grants, according to an NEA press statement, “support creative placemaking projects that help transform communities into lively, beautiful and sustainable places with the arts at their core [and] encourage creative activity, develop community identity and a sense of place, and help revitalize local economies.”
The grant, one of 59 NEA Our Town grants awarded around the country, will help fund several cultural events throughout the two-week congress Aug. 8 to 24, 2014, according to Don Cyr, grant co-author and director of the Lille museum.
“This was our first time up to bat and [the NEA] wants to see if we can hit the ball or not,” Cyr said Saturday morning from his Lille cultural center. “They want to see that we can carry out the things we said we could do the way we said we could do it.”
Half of the grant will fund the headline performance by Cajun musician Zachary Richard during the conference’s celebration of Acadia Day on Aug. 15, 2014, Cyr said.
The remainder of the grant will help fund a series of what Cyr terms the “festival of small halls,” small-venue live performances spotlighting Acadian culture, music and art.
Six performances are planned over the two weeks with two in Lille, two in Fort Kent and two in venues yet to be determined, Cyr said.
Beyond the immediate impact of funding the events, Cyr said, the grant has given organizers leverage to go after more funding from other sources.
“I have already heard from three different foundations encouraging us to apply for their grants,” Cyr said. “And that was just since [last] Thursday.”
Securing future funding will allow his organization and others interested in preserving and celebrating Acadian heritage to offer live performance opportunities well after the final World Acadian Congress guests leave the region.
“The whole idea is to get people to come to the events so after the [World Acadian Congress] people realize the value of live events,” he said. “They will say, ‘It enriches my life,’ and when you have a good cultural life going on, people want to be around it.”
It is Cyr’s belief that a diverse, rich cultural environment in the St. John Valley will encourage an upsurge in the arts community attractive to young people who otherwise would leave the area.
“What makes people want to stay in an area?” Cyr said. “Something to do.”
With the success of the NEA grant, Cyr said, it is hoped future funding may be secured from that agency and his group will be doing a great deal of documentation to demonstrate how the $50,000 is spent.
“We can apply for another ‘Our Town’ grant in January,” Cyr said. “Getting this grant showed we can get to first base, now we need to demonstrate we can hit a home run.”
In all the NEA handed out just over $4.75 million in Our Town grants this year, ranging from $25,000 to $200,000 each.
“One of the things that makes ‘Our Town’ [grants] exciting is the reach into rural communities,” Victoria Hutter, assistant director of public affairs with the NEA, said on Friday. “This kind of grant is really an effective tool for small communities [and] brings members of the community together to build a project that speaks of that community.”
Additional partners in the grant application are the town of Madawaska, the Maine Arts Commission, Northern Maine Development Commission, Maine Office of Economic and Community Development, University of Maine Fort Kent and CultureWorth.