It’s not about the art

By JEFF INGLIS  |  September 3, 2008
MARITIME MAPS: The territory of Catherine Callahan and Bret LeBleu.
Fixing what’s not broken
If all this strikes you as a massive undertaking intended to right a large number of wrongs, you’re getting the picture. And if you question whether some of those wrongs are as bad as Maginnis makes them out to be, you’re not alone.

Maginnis says that she already has strong evidence of her project’s success. For example, she notes that many of the 560 entrants wrote in their entries that they had learned something new about Maine when researching their submissions — which is, it’s true, a start down the road of teaching the world about Maine’s creativity, but not really numbers worth boasting about. And she professes great satisfaction at having brought discussions about art into the halls of government and corporate boardrooms, in her search for financial and logistical support — even though many of her sponsors and collaborators are long-time activists in the local arts community.

There are even farther-reaching goals, though. Maginnis admits that, based on the wealth of national-scale artists who live here, Maine has a strong reputation among artists and art sellers and a robust visual-art life and economy. Considering their small populations, Portland and Maine — which have been art destinations for decades — have a high number of quality galleries and museums. But still, Maginnis insists that more people think of Maine as a state where businesses and artists struggle, rather than one where ingenuity is key to survival — and that this project can help shift that view.

That seems like a strange perspective, but it’s easier to understand how she got there when she offers the most startling example of the pessimism driving her forward. There are, she says, currently “no industries” in Maine where creative people can work.

That’s a particularly ironic statement for many reasons, not the least of which is the letter of support from Governor John Baldacci that is prominently posted on the Art All Around project’s Web site. In it, the governor makes clear that “more than 63,000 Maine residents are currently employed in the creative sector, which provides about 10 percent of all Maine’s wages.”

Her claim is further contradicted by the fact that she delivers it — with great earnestness — in one of several conference rooms in the offices of a large Portland marketing firm that provides her with free desk space and other support. At the desks outside the room where she is speaking work some of the most successful creative minds in the state.

Talk of the town
The public’s objections to the Art All Around project are legion, and range from philosophical to savage. The most pragmatic complaints decry the use of $1.2 million in private donations to pretty up massive oil tanks when the petroleum industry is making record profits and Mainers can’t afford to heat their homes or gas up their cars.

Some local residents have expressed concerns about the designs themselves, with one South Portland artist telling the Current (a weekly community newspaper serving South Portland) the designs give her “little to be excited about.” A resident and business owner quoted in the same article used the word “horrendous” to describe some of the designs — her strongest praise was, “Others, I could live with.” And a South Portland city councilor voiced among the most common criticisms of the designs: “I was expecting (design proposals) more along the lines of Maine-related history, mountains, seascapes, and native animals.”

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  Topics: News Features , John Baldacci, Ken Greenleaf, Jean Maginnis,  More more >
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