About Town - May, 2006

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

CREATIVITY - Path from the Summit

The Creative Economy Summit, sponsored by the city of Portland (and with the Phoenix as a supporting sponsor), drew more than 100 people to City Hall today, but the real impact will begin tomorrow.

Who will change their behavior as a result of an idea they heard or devised at the summit, which included local artists, politicians, representatives of various businesses and educational institutions, as well as other interested people?

Will any of them wake up in the morning and decide to do something new, something they've never done before? Will you?

The ideas that "won" the "voting" that wound up 90 minutes of group discussion were these:
-Build Portland's identity as an international creativity center.
-Get artists connected with their audiences.
-Create a publicly supported, affordable space for artists.

As was observed by many in attendance, all the ideas revolved around four themes: space, audience, connection to city government, and free money. (The fifth theme was unspoken - the hope that a "task force" of "stakeholders" can find a recommendation that's smart enough to work and politically savvy to pass the city council.)

Now there were enough people in that room, representing enough businesses, arts patrons, and other organizations, to pay for much of the work privately, without muddying the art waters with politics. Perhaps some of them will step up to the plate and be patrons of the arts, or increase their participation in some way, though to do that they will have to learn more about how their contributions will help their own bottom lines.

There was also an undercurrent of interest, in the mentions of rebates to developers of artists' spaces, TIF districts, "public-private partnerships," and using municipal property to kick-start some of the ideas, of public funding for the arts. That brings in a messy set of questions.

Here is one question on each of the main themes, to get people talking. We'll have to answer them if the public purse is involved, and private groups will need to answer them before deciding how to support the arts themselves.

1. Why should the public at large (that is, taxpayers) subsidize artists? Sure, we subsidize other groups, such as the poor, and even businesses, but what answer can people give when taxpayers come calling in the halls of government asking whether their money is being well-spent?

2. Artists by definition need an audience. (Well, maybe not, if they operate completely solo and do work for their own reasons and no others. But most artists want to express themselves, or change the world, or shed light on something. Those require audiences.) So if someone should help artists get attention for themselves because art contributes to local culture, should that same someone also subsidize advertising for grocery stores, because buying food contributes to local survival?

3. City government should be responsible to all residents. And all residents should be involved in local affairs of interest to them. The arts community seems to want to be asked for its input in some sort of formal way, with ideas ranging from a committee to a publicly paid official whose job is to get input from artists. Why should someone pay for a person to go out and ask for the opinions of people and organizations who are completely entitled and allowed to speak up at any public meeting they choose, and who can make appointments to meet with any city official they want? (The same question applies to local business-government councils. We shouldn't have to create them - they should be part of the fabric of our public life.)

4. And now, my favorite: Free money. Let's ignore the question of why the public should give money to any one group of people who are not disadvantaged by some physical or mental ailment, and move past the idea that generations of artists have lamented the fact that they had to work day jobs to afford to do their art - and did so anyway, to great success. And let's go straight to the real question that matters: How do we determine who should get the free (or subsidized) money? Who meets our definition of an artist? Am I an artist because I doodled in class? I bet there's a definition of "artist" that someone could devise that would sound reasonable, but that Picasso would not fit. If we're talking about public money, we're talking about political money. Politics may be an art, but political funding for art is a messy idea, at best.

How will we, here in Portland, define who an artist is such that we can offer subsidies to developers selling to those artists? How will we, here in Portland, define who an artist is such that we can allocate limited resources (artists' lofts, grant funds, marketing energy) to them, without making a laughingstock of ourselves? If we become known as the city that offers grants for which anyone is eligible, I just might win something, even though I can tell you now that I shouldn't. If, however, we become known as a city that is discerning in its support for serious artists, our reputation will soar. The problem there is my fifth and final question: How do we create a structure to define and determine who an artist is, in a way that works to our collective benefit?

5/31/2006 5:04:25 PM by Jeff Inglis | Comments [2] |  


Elizabeth Trice, a local activist and grad student at the Muskie School, has posted a survey online asking for Portlanders' opinions on housing trade-offs. It's a clever idea, mainly because it accepts the traditional (and somewhat anti-postmodernist) notion that to get one thing you want you have to give up something else you want. And it asks you to rate your preference on a number of different attributes of housing (including the idea of sharing a car as part of a living arrangement, something many couples do but relatively few singles do).

Trice is looking for everyone's input, but mostly from people who do not already own their homes, and from single adults and single parents. The obvious problem is that the survey is not a random sampling of people, but instead a self-selecting group of respondents contacted in non-random ways (based on, for example, habits of reading a particular blog). So its generalizability will be limited, though some interesting perspectives may emerge. We look forward to seeing the results!

(Plus, if you take the survey, you can win a $50 gift certificate to a local bike shop!)

5/31/2006 2:47:57 PM by Jeff Inglis | Comments [0] |  

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

INDIE KING - Former Governor Angus helps found Unity08

A new organization which hopes to reform the 2008 presidential election was launched today, and former Maine Governor Angus King is one of the founders. Unity08 plans to create an alternative ticket for voters, by voters (you can choose the nominees online), which will combine women and men from various parties together on one ticket. How about Condi for Prez, Gore for VP? Or Mrs. Clinton for Prez and Nader for VP? Hell, if Kermit the Frog wins the Unity08 online poll than he could appear on the ballot, assuming he qualifies to run for the highest office in the US. I think he was born in the US, but he's also a frog, which might make him a tricky sell to the critical swing voters.

Unity08 wants to bring our polarized nation together by getting the unity ticket on the presidential ballot in every state in the country. To this end, Unity08 plans to hold an online convention in 2008 with registered members to choose its candidates - the two candidates must come from different parties or be political independents - after which it will "take off-line action" to get the ticket on the ballot.

Former Governor King is a member of the "Founders Council," a group of more than 30 people who helped found Unity08. Here's what King said about Unity08 in today's press release: 

“Unity08 will be the long-needed correction. Backed by people of all ages, backgrounds, races, beliefs and political affiliations, this movement will demonstrate once again that collaboration and cooperation between the parties is not only possible, but critical to future progress."


5/30/2006 2:22:50 PM by Sara Donnelly | Comments [0] |  

Thursday, May 25, 2006

OUTSOURCING - G-P to build new machines, but not here

The Bangor Daily News is reporting today that while Georgia-Pacific is closing a mill in Maine, it's going to build two new machines at existing mills elsewhere in the US.

The new machines will produce toilet paper and paper towels, and need to be closer to the markets that are growing, in the south and southeast. We're not sure if this means Mainers use less TP and more cloth towels, or whether we just have a lower demand for paperwork.

But either way, it appears the problem was not that powering the mill was too expensive, as implied by a deal brokered by Governor John Baldacci that had the state give $26 million to G-P for its disgusting landfill near the mill, then lease the landfill to Casella Waste Systems for $26 million. With its new money, G-P bought a new boiler to generate electricity, but it has never been approved for actual use.

Instead, powering the mill was at best a dirty option that still would have had little effect on the economics of the paper industry, and in particular the cost of transporting "an incredibly bulky, fluffy thing that takes up a lot of space ... but not much weight," as one consultant told the BDN. So perhaps the second shutdown was unavoidable, and Baldacci's spending of the taxpayers' money was a delaying action in a losing battle.

Now the state - not G-P, mind you - is spearheading the charge for someone to buy the mill. Let's hope the buyer we find is not us.

5/25/2006 4:40:14 PM by Jeff Inglis | Comments [1] |  

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

LOST THREADS - Stitchez clothing store to close

Stitchez, the men's clothing store on Congress Street where average nerds could find threads to transform them into super-hip nerds, will shut its doors on June 30. On May 19, owner Jon Gilbert sent out an email to his loyal customers in which he wrote "It is with great sadness that I must announce the closing of Stitchez Clothing - Owning this store, meeting with all my customers and trying to provide some diversity & fun to men’s clothing here in Portland has really been a joy - Unfortunately finances are forcing me to close."

Stitchez is a locally-owned shop which specialized in retro-style bowling shirts and ties with irreverant designs on them. Jon is now holding a going-out-of-business sale, everything is marked down 25 percent.

Swing by Stitchez soon and maybe you too can walk out looking like this guy:


5/24/2006 4:35:34 PM by Sara Donnelly | Comments [0] |  

Tuesday, May 23, 2006