But perhaps no Portland venue closing was more ominous than that of Lucid Stage, the 75-seat black box theater in Oakdale, which ceased operations in September after only two years of business, during which it hosted dozens of local companies and was a key cog in the inaugural PortFringe season. While each of these individual venues faced different obstacles, the overall concern is frightening. Portland's arts scene is one of its most vibrant and vital characteristics, and the city (and its citizens) must find ways to enable and protect the arts throughout the cycles of its production, from rehearsal to performance.
SPACES ON THE FLY
Perhaps that's why we saw so many pop-ups in 2012. Temporary and site-specific installations, they came in the form of restaurants, retail shops, art galleries, theater pieces, dance parties, and more, and allowed artists a maximum amount of collaboration, flexibility, and design choice. Pocket Brunch, the itinerant monthly restaurant started by Joel Beauchamp and Katie and Josh Schier-Potocki, sold out seats at its December meal, a Game of Thrones-themed fete at Geno's, at $75 a head. East Bayside coffee hub Tandem Roasters brewed up a few interesting parties, art walks would frequently set vacant retail space into bustling events, and Gallery 37-a, for years an Old Port depot of contemporary art forms, refashioned itself in 2012 as a mutable high-end retail store. There were countless more, but since these things are ephemeral by design, they resist easy documentation.
There are a number of theories why pop-ups are in vogue. Is it merely economics? Perhaps artists are hedging against the financial risk that comes with leasing; maybe they're responding to the flux of unused space to sprout during the recession. Or is it a natural response to the digital age? Social media can both streamline and restrict invitations to intended demographics, giving flash installations the discreet charm of an elite party and thus granting more creative license to producers. Or maybe artists just have too many good ideas to start a conventional business, and pop-ups allow for collaboration with rotating casts of characters instead of the monotony of traditional models. Whatever the reason, the Portland contributions to the national pop-up trend turned a lot of heads in 2012, and it's not something we expect will quiet in 2013.
How best to avoid scrutiny for official actions, when pesky notes and emails qualify as public records open to inspection? Simple: Don't make any records. And sure enough, shortly after his 2011 inauguration, Republican Governor Paul LePage stopped taking notes in meetings or otherwise using written or electronic communication. Over the past year, the practice has expanded significantly, to most — if not all — of his department commissioners and other senior staff. (If they're unable to completely avoid creating a paper trail, what is recorded is extremely limited.) As a result, there are precious few records of discussions, proposals, and agreements being made at the highest levels of state government. We are losing accountability now and for all time because these political operatives are circumventing the state's open-government law while pursuing their agenda. Perhaps they're doing things we would all approve of, if we could only learn about them. That is indeed possible — but causes us to wonder what they'd have to hide, then. Less transparency in government is always bad, and barring public access to the thoughts and deeds of those at the very top is nothing short of anti-American.