2017-02-16 / Front Page

Officials: creative arts a neccesity

By Garrick Hoffman
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – Creative arts and place making – “a community’s bloodline,” according to the description within meeting materials, was the topic of discussion during the meeting of a subcommittee of the city’s Strategic Planning Steering Committee.

Members present were Phil Radding, Biddeford facilities director; James Bennett, city manager; the Rev. Shirley Bowen; and residents Nathan Bean and David Flood. All were appointed by Mayor Alan Casavant.

The steering committee is made of 13 members – two city councilors and 11 registered voters of the city of Biddeford, and was created in 2016 “in efforts to engage our neighbors, increase awareness and implement a strategy for development and preservation of the city,” according to its page on the city website. Additionally, it seeks “to provide an opportunity to reflect on where we have been, thoughtfully consider where we would like to be in the future and have a real framework for implementation.” The committee meets twice a month.

Members not present were Julian Schlaver, Downtown Development Commission member; chamber Director Craig Pendleton; Susan Swanton, a Ward 1 resident and wife of City Councilor Mike Swanton; Maine state Sen. Susan Deschambault and residents Kerri Lesieur, Vassie Fowler and Janice Lamontagne. Ward 7 Councilor Mike Ready and Ward 3 Councilor Stephen St. Cyr were also absent.

According to meeting materials, “Creative placemaking animates public and private spaces, rejuvenates structures and streetscapes, improves local business viability and public safety, and brings people together to celebrate, inspire and be inspired.”

Flood said anything discussed could be subject to change, as it was merely a meeting to pitch ideas. All ideas that are agreed upon will be brought to the Strategic Planning Steering Committee, and then to city council.

Bennett said supporting creative arts as a “core value of the community,” is important, citing an event in Presque Isle in which 400 to 500 community members come out during high school prom night to participate in fun activities.

“It’s quite a show,” he said.

Bennett also posed the idea of shutting down Main Street not only for Biddeford’s Friday Art Walks, but for other activities in public spaces, such as speaking events or live music performances. All of these are “relatively low-expense things, but just creates a unique buzz that you won’t get in other communities,” Bennett said.

Some of Bennett’s other suggestions would be to upgrade City Theater, describing it as a “shining gem in the city,” supporting the development of a mill museum and encouraging a permanent public market that includes artists, crafters and others.

Bowen suggested having a master gardener create community gardens in the city, which would be an effective resource for getting people who might not generally feel that they have a way to get involved to participate in city happenings. Bowen also said, historically, such a thing has turned kids on to gardening.

She also broached the idea of bringing TED Talks downtown – short lectures, typically with one speaker, designed to address a myriad of topics that range from technology to culture and education. TED stands for technology, entertainment and design.

In 2016, the University of New England hosted a TED Talk, titled “TEDxUNE: Waves of the Future.” Speakers – five in all - discussed health care, privacy and public health, among other topics. Sen. Justin Chenette (D-Saco) was one speaker at the TED Talk, covering youth in politics.

“I’d like to see more involvement with UNE in the downtown in some kind of space that they can have for arts (and) lecture series,” Radding said.

Flood reinforced the idea.

“I’m all in favor of working stronger with UNE.”

Bennett said the city doesn’t embrace McArthur Library as it should, saying it is, “for lack of a better way to describe it, the red-headed stepchild to the city.” Bennett said he wants to see it take a leading role in the community as a creative arts center.

“(McArthur Library) is an unpolished jewel that could play a significant role, and we want to help it do that,” Bennett said.

Jeff Cabral, director of McArthur library, said he appreciates the city’s efforts regarding the library.

“We’re glad that the city has been supportive of everything we’ve done, and much more so with increased funding in the almost six years that I’ve been here,” Cabral said. “We look forward to a strengthened partnership and being involved in the strategic plan for the city. The library is an arts and culture center for the city already, and we can definitely continue to strengthen that work that we do in our programming and work with the city on that.”

Bennett also said he’d like to capture the natural beauty of the city in photography and painting by bringing in artistic talent, as well as preserve the cultural heritage of the city and the rich history in the mills.

In the description packet of the subcommittee’s agenda, historical tours of “architecturally significant downtown locations” are mentioned as a way to achieve the showcasing of Biddeford’s history.

The next meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 28 at city hall in the second floor conference room.

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