ROCKLAND, Maine — The growing role of art in Rockland’s economy and culture was put on display Tuesday night as city councilors met for two hours with leaders of the art and business community.
In the end, councilors agreed to take the first step in dealing with the arts’ growing importance to Rockland by deciding to vote next month on the creation of a subcommittee of the parks commission that will make recommendations on the display of art in public parks.
The city had five concrete pads poured — three at Ferry Terminal Park and one at Winslow-Holbrook Memorial Park — for display of sculptures.
Councilor Louise MacLellan-Ruf agreed the city should start slowly in creating an arts commission. She said this discussion began when the city installed two pieces of art last year in public parks without input from the community.
Parks commission member Alison Weaver said the only thing she would request is that when city officials consider placing art in a park that they notify the parks commission before installation.
Christopher Brownawell, the director of the Farnsworth Art Museum, said art plays an important role in the economy of Rockland. He suggested that the city could begin with an advisory committee before considering a more expansive arts and cultural commission.
“This could be the city dipping its toes in the water,” he said.
Gordon Page Sr., executive director of Rockland Main Street Inc., said whatever committee was created should be for research and advice and not a regulatory body.
Maggi Blue of Midcoast Magnet agreed that a slow approach was the best way, voicing a concern that a full-fledged arts and cultural commission would add an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy.
Rockland has applied for a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to both help market and brand the city’s arts community. The grant award should be announced in July and the $75,000 being sought would be available in October.
Charlotte Dixon of the Center for Maine Contemporary Art said that because of the importance of art in Rockland, an arts commission needs to become separate at some point from the parks commission.
“Rockland is one of few cities in country with this type of art status,” Dixon said.
She pointed out that with a population of about 7,500, Rockland has the nationally recognized Farnsworth Art Museum, a large number of galleries and soon CMCA. If the city receives the NEA grant, the city council should embrace its status and create an entity that can help shape the community’s art development.
Former Mayor Brian Harden asked that the Rockland Historical Society be involved in the formation of a committee or in decisions about placement of art on public property to ensure that art installations align with the history of the locations where they’re placed.