2016-09-22 / Front Page

Biddeford arts focus of planning

By Ben Meiklejohn
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – The Strategic Planning Steering Committee has been meeting since earlier this year to help develop a plan for the city and last week members focused on ways the city could better support creative arts, and agreed that further community forums should be held with artists in the city.

According to presentation documents on the city’s website, the goals of the plan would be to create a caring community, sense of neighborhood, a downtown as a destination, pride in the city’s history, support the creative arts, maintain economic diversity and protect natural resources.

City Manager James Bennett said the purpose of a strategic plan is larger than a comprehensive plan, which typically only sets goals for the next five or 10 years. The purpose, Bennett said, is to provide a vision for where the city should be in the long term.

At the Sept. 15 meeting, Bennett said that of all the goals, creative arts was an area he was least familiar with.

“I believe the technical definition of creative arts includes accounting, believe it or not,” Bennett said. “Architects and those kinds of disciplines are also considered creative arts if you look at the technical definitions.”

“I think the IRS frowns on anybody who is too creative with their taxes,” said Director of Facilities Phil Radding.

Bennett said one possible goal for the city could be “to create a market or destination for artists and explore potential for cooperation among artists.”

Susan Swanton, a resident appointee of the committee, said there are many artisans in North Dam Mill who make products, but not many who sell their materials in shops in Biddeford.

Nathan Bean, who was appointed to the committee by Mayor Alan Casavant, said it is important to also include performing arts in the discussion.

“The City Theater over here is a really, really beautiful and historic monument that the city has,” Bean said. “There are these things that we don’t have to create, things that we can highlight and support.”

Radding said the Last Friday Art Walk, a monthly event when businesses and galleries open their doors for people to view art, started out as a successful event but has begun to dwindle.

“Portland is fortunate to have that anchor of the Museum of Art, which is free on Fridays,” said Bean, referring to a similar event in Portland called First Friday Art Walk. “The question is, how do we create that anchor? Because I think it’s a wonderful thing to grow, and how do you create that central thing that gets people here?”

Radding said creative arts are important in that they attract interest to a community.

“One more piece to draw on, and make (downtown) grow, and that is to create artist space, which we haven’t done,” Radding said. “We’ve created workforce housing, but not really artist space … You almost have to have apartment gallery space. If you’ve ever watched what happened in real estate in New York City, all of a sudden, places get a little more upscale and people want to move into that space and then the artists get pushed out. Realtors realized if they created artist space, they create potential to attract people into that area.”

Bean said he believes there are many people promoting arts in the community that “aren’t sitting in this room.”

“I don’t want to be presumptuous that nobody’s doing these things already, but how do we work really, really hard to promote things like the Art Walk, to be really successful?” Bean asked. “I know that people are doing that stuff, but how would we support those efforts?”

Radding said a greater presence by University of New England downtown would also improve the city’s arts culture.

Bennett implored the committee to also think beyond downtown.

“Are there other possible communities as it relates to creative arts that we should be thinking about?” Bennett asked. “Traditionally, everybody sort of puts the arts in downtown.”

At the end of the meeting, Bennett summarized the variety of references to the creative arts that the committee members came up with relating to the arts: artist cooperatives, promoting arts, holding events that showcase arts, anchoring events around places or themes, supporting Biddeford Mills Museum, creating artist living spaces, upgrading City Theater, and working with the university, public schools and library.

“We want to hear from every member of the community about what they think they want their city to be like,” Bean said. “I would like to hear from people.”

Sen. Susan Deschambault (D-Alfred, Arundel, Biddeford, Dayton, Kennbunkport and Lyman), who was appointed as a planning board member, and is chairman of the board, said, “This isn’t bad. This is us who aren’t artists throwing ideas out there. If we want to go out that way, we need to promote,

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