Portland, ME

Contact Name
Marty Pottenger
Project Dates
2007 to 2013
Workshop Leader
Creative Communities Exchange (CCX) 2013
Tags
Policy, Networking
Art At Work is a national initiative to improve municipal government and the communities they serve through strategic arts projects with municipal employees, elected officials, residents and artists. Creative Placemaking with people at the center, AAW generates cultural, civic and economic vibrancy by engaging people in making and experiencing of art that matters.

Since 2007, with the City of Portland, Art At Work has put creativity to work delivering measurable outcomes that have improved police morale, deepened cross-cultural understanding in the Public Works Department, and increased awareness & appreciation for art, local government and civic engagement. Our NEA Our Town project, Meeting Place, worked with artists to develop four neighborhoods. Art At Work Holyoke launched in 2012.
Project Goals
What were the project goals?
Project Goals: Since 2007, with the City of Portland, Art At Work has put creativity to work delivering measurable outcomes that have improved police morale, deepened cross-cultural understanding among Public Works employee, and increased awareness & appreciation for art, local government and civic engagement. Our NEA Our Town project, Meeting Place, worked with artists to develop four neighborhoods. Art At Work Holyoke launched in 2012.
Have they changed over time?
For the first five years, introducing artmaking to Portland's municipal staff and elected officials was the primary focus, for the last two years, we partnered with neighborhood associations, businesses and arts organizations.
Who are the project partners and stakeholders?
The City of Portland, Police, Public Works, Health & Human Services, Human Resources, Portland School District, West End Neighborhood Association, East Bayside Neighborhood Organization, Bayside Neighborhood Association, Libbytown neighborhood, Portland Buy Local, Portland Trails, Creative Portland, Maine Muslim Community Center, Mayo St. Arts, Running With Scissors,
Project Specifics
How was the project implemented? What were the steps taken?
A year-long community performance called 'home land security' commissioned by the Center for Cultural Exchange in Portland in 2005. Created from interviews and storycircles, performers included the Mayor of Portland, Fire Chief, Sudanese leader, Episcopalian minister, homeless writer, State Senate President, Irani high school student and President of Portland's NAACP among others. A legal partnership between arts nonprofit Terra Moto Inc and the City of Portland, Art At Work's first project was a police poetry calendar by officers and local poets to address historic low morale. Essential support for Art At Work has come from Nathan Cummings Foundation, the City of Portland, Maine Arts Commission along with several other Maine foundations.
Have they been refined over time?
Every project has required a unique approach, as every department and neighborhood's culture is pretty dramatically different from every other. To win the police's agreement to do any project, I went to roll calls, union events, award ceremonies, funerals, and press conferences, despite my own discomfort. I interviewed widely and wrote poems using their own stories. Then I read them, made posters with them, emailed them and made fun of them. I met and read lots of local poets to find the five I thought would be great partners - one to one - with five police volunteer poets. Then when they accepted, we met separately for training, story circles, Q&A's so we'd be ready. Two years after the second police poetry calendar, the police shot and killed a Sudanese man, which resulted in escalating rock and bottle throwing incidents at the police by high school students. In an effort to stop the attacks, the police chief asked to write and direct a play with police officers as the performers with a script based on their stories. This became "Radio Calls" which not only stopped the attacks, but after performing it for 1300 students, faculty and Portlanders, it has resulted in significant relationship change between the youth and the police.
Obstacles
What were your major obstacles?
Moving to New England, being employed by and working in a municipal government/culture, coupling government and artmaking, police and poetry, Public Works union members and block printmaking, building relationships in a new arts community and a new funding community...it's been a festival of challenges.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
After six years, I'm at that stage where I can look back and wish I'd known then what I know now. The materials it took to succeed included several city leaders who, having seen 'home land security', believed that city government and an innovative arts process could make a real difference in terms of racial and class equity; and Claudine Brown, former Director of Arts & Culture at the Nathan Cummings Foundation, and her passionate commitment to the arts and social justice. The qualities it took to succeed, at least the ways I've succeeded, were persistence, curiosity, relentless work ethic, willingness to imagine the unimaginable, never waiting to be 'wanted', a genuine affection for people, and a steady belief that everyone is ready, if asked in a way that works for them, for a more adventurous life.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
Don't wait to be wanted or invited or welcomed. Make sure you either have a buddy, a team or that you are working on it. Listen more than talk. Two Bonus Suggestions: Be kind to yourself. It's a fact that if you're making much of a difference, not everybody's going to like you. No one attacks an ineffective leader. Art really is that powerful.
Project Impact
How has this project contributed to creative community building?
Changed relationships between residents and city government, increasing appreciation and expectations. Strengthened neighborhood associations, increased and diversified leadership and membership through poetry, storytelling, visual art, drumming, chorale singing and photography.Given over 50 artists work and created over 350 original artworks about civic engagement and residents lives.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
Changed relationships between residents and city government, increasing appreciation and expectations. Strengthened neighborhood associations, increased and diversified leadership and membership through poetry, storytelling, visual art, drumming, chorale singing and photography.Given over 50 artists work and created over 350 original artworks about civic engagement and residents lives. Media articles - print and broadcast, designing projects where artists made the art in public resulting in thousands of connections between and among people as the art was being created.
Were there unexpected impacts?
Yes.
CCX Workshop Handout