Some folks are just beginning to make their marks on Portland.
TAVIA GILBERT never meant to stay in Portland when she arrived in 2001 to study at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. We have another Most Influential Portlander, bike guru Percy Wheeler, to partially thank for that (the pair met and fell in love during Gilbert's stay, and married in 2004). But Gilbert's ingenuity and determination are owed at least some of the credit, if not for making her stay, then at least for making her presence in the community a meaningful one.
An Idaho native who studied acting at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, Gilbert had little going for her in Maine, which isn't quite the hub of professional performing-arts careers. But she did what so many of the people on our PMI list did: she forged her own path, making Portland work for her instead of the other way around.
Gilbert discovered voice-over work, and realized that she could make a career of it, working locally and consistently, while making money that would give her the "space to create the work that I dreamed of creating — I don't know what that is yet."
Audiobook narration, where she found her niche, satisfied her desire to explore language and storytelling, and eventually she began producing and directing audiobooks, in addition to voicing their characters. She worked for a while in a home audio studio that Wheeler built for her, before moving into space at The Studio on Casco Street. She plans to start a master's in fine arts degree in creative non-fiction at Vermont College this fall. Like many creative thinkers, "I'm not comfortable being comfortable for too long," she says. Now, Gilbert is thinking about entrepreneurship — she hopes to someday (soon) combine radio, theater, audio-production, writing, and directing to produce new multimedia works through her own business.
"I'm starting to feel like I'm an adult," the 32-year-old says, which she defines, in part, as "an artist who takes risks and uses language and is wiling to fail . . . who opens people's hearts and minds and makes people more aware." She goes on to say that she wants to jolt people from their "sleepwalking catatonia [that feeds on] greed and fear and rage."
Indeed, these values manifest in more than just Gilbert's work. "Portland is the first community in my life that I'm really invested in," she says, a statement that's supported by her involvement — leadership, in some cases — in causes such as Buy Local, health care reform, and library funding. Gilbert's tendency is to downplay her achievements (one friend says she's "a narcissist with an inferiority complex," a label she doesn't spurn), but the truth is that her passion is contagious, energizing, and a major asset to both her work and the community.
"I really want to find new work. I want to be producing and publishing stories that are about how we are connected. I want to hear about the human heart breaking." And about it being put back together again.
ANASTASIA ANTONACOS | classical musician; teacher | Champion of modern and contemporary works
ANDREW BOSSIE | executive director, Maine AIDS Alliance | Keeping sight of what's really important
EZEKIEL CALLANAN | co-founder, Maine Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts | Remembering that sometimes creative types need legal help
KATIE DIAMOND | organizer; artist; connector | Proving that yes, you can do everything (or at least appear to)
JONAH FERTIG | co-founder, Local Sprouts | Growing sustainable food projects despite our northern clime
KRIS JOHNSEN | poster-maker extraordinaire | Making concerts vastly more appealing
KATE KNOX | public-policy lobbyist, Bernstein Shur | Following in the footsteps of Pat Peard, she just may be the next big leader in Maine's civil-rights battles
JOSH LORING | musician; photographer/curator of Treble Treble | Loving the scene he's in
"LORD" BYRON NILSEN | Fetish/queer/burlesque performance artist | We can't take our eyes off him