Big ideas for the arts

Is this a soapbox or someone’s installation piece?
By IAN PAIGE  |  January 2, 2008

Big Idea #1: PORTLAND BECOMES A NATIONALLY RECOGNIZED BOILER ROOM FOR ARTS PRODUCTION.
Almost every young artist I know pays the bills by selling tourists stuff from a retail shop or getting their peers drunk at bars, selling a little bit of their soul while they're at it. They stay in Maine by choice for a more sustainable quality of life, but after years in the service industry, often move in hopes of greener pastures. Imagine if we could attract arts-oriented industry with the same voracity as National Semiconductor and their ilk? Portland as a hotspot for filmmaking or the furniture-design capital of New England? Rumor has it there are plans brewing for a temp agency geared to artists, connecting needy employers to people with the specific creative skills they’re looking for. Artists’ bread and butter might then have more to do with their training and less to do with lobster T-shirts.

Big Idea #2: THE ARTS EQUIVALENT TO THE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE SHOWS UP ON CONGRESS STREET.
Some people are under the collective delusion that the city of Portland is going to find a wad of cash between its sofa cushions and give all artists free rent. You don’t see small-business owners asking for free retail space, but artists and galleries can be a chamber orchestra of grumbles about funding and subsidies. Don’t get me wrong: I’d love to see federal war spending dumped into the National Endowment for the Arts, but it seems we are left with the status quo and our local bootstraps for the time being. What public support there is may be best invested in an organization that educates artists on their opportunities for individual action, facilitates collaboration, connects to loans and grants, and acts as a marketing and public-relations representative for the scene. This magical organization may already exist, it might just need more money. Check the sofa. As for national arts funding, don’t forget to vote in ’08.

Big Idea #3: CONGRESS SQUARE, AN UNDERUTILIZED PUBLIC SPACE, WILL BECOME THE SITE OF THE LONG-AWAITED ARTS INCUBATOR THAT WILL ANCHOR THE ARTS DISTRICT.
State legislation recently gave the Portland City Council the power to declare a “creative economy district” where tax revenue can be invested to improve the district as a whole. My studio looks out on Congress Square, and nothing really happens there aside from the occasional MENSK event and the hot-dog stand. With that startup capital, we could turn the space into a building with studios, for which artists are so desperately crying, retaining the production of art in the city center, not just its sale. Just give MENSK rooftop access; they'll find a good use for it.

Big Idea #4: BETTER PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION AND THE AFOREMENTIONED OPPORTUNITIES WILL TOGETHER ALLOW ARTISTS A SUSTAINABLE EXISTENCE WITHOUT LEAVING THE DENSITY OF DOWNTOWN.
Imagine hopping onto a revamped METRO system and getting from the West End to the East End without sweating your car, or taking another line out to Woodford’s Corner, which would be transformed into a whole new node of pedestrian shopping and clubs thanks to improved access. Creative types thrive on these public interventions, keeping more young and/or artistically minded people close together. The main goal is to replace the labyrinthine system with the notion that any bus you can catch on the peninsula will get you to your destination, and quickly.

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