Belfast, ME

Contact Name
Kimberly Callas
Project Dates
2012-2013 (on-going)
Tags
Technology, Business Planning, Marketing, Networking, Workforce Development
The Belfast Creative Coalition (BCC) was created in 2012 to provide leadership and next-level development for a well respected cluster of arts and cultural organizations, businesses, and creative economy entrepreneurs in a rural Waldo County, Maine.

BCC works to improve promotion and coordination of activities, share information and resources, and collaborate on joint economic development fronts. We host and promote an arts and cultural promotional website, that acts as a directory of local artists and venues and an events calendar for cultural activities. We research, create and place ads in local regional, and national marketing outlets. Hundreds have attended our public meetings and networking events where common needs as a creative economy are identified and addressed.
Project Goals
What were the project goals?
Our goals revolved around two main components:
1. create cohesion, coordination, and promotion of the area’s high level of cultural activity
2. strengthen the creative economy sector

COHESION and COORDINATION

- Belfast Creative Coalition becoming a centralized contact and leader for the art and cultural sector.
One that establish mechanisms for community networking and coordination of long term scheduling including: regular face-to-face planning and information sharing meetings, website and calendar, social media tools, online membership forums, links.

-BCC to become a clearinghouse for cultural activity in the area via a website announcing all events, businesses, studios, galleries, performances, etc. in the area. The web site will be a resource for the Coalition membership as well as the general public; creatives can share information with each other, links to their sites, and learn of development opportunities.

-BCC become the direct liaison with the City, which will look to us as the leading voice of the cultural sector. We will work with city officials to facilitate, streamline, and leverage public funds for arts and cultural activities in the City
as a broker between the creative sector and other entities, the Coalition will promote and field interest from outside the community regarding potential events, meetings, conferences, and festivals

- Belfast Creative Coalition will continually identify sector needs and issues by conducting meetings and surveys to assess and follow up on past reports, work to connect with creative sub-sectors, such as young people, traditional crafters, people with disabilities and clarify common as well as unique issues, incorporate these identified needs in our work plan, and share them with public and private partners as we work to develop collaborative projects

- Belfast Creative Coalition, as a catalyst for creative community collaboration, will:
collectively and innovatively tackle some of the harder issues, such as addressing the longstanding community need for a high-quality performance venue.

BCC will reach out to potential public and private partners, and ensure that the creative sector has a seat the table for large community initiatives, e.g. working with the City and potential funders to plan public art spaces along the Harbor Walk

STRENGTHENING the CREATIVE SECTOR

- Belfast Creative Coalition will foster and promote the Belfast as an arts destination and boost the sector by taking advantage of all state and local marketing campaigns that particularly extend to regional and national markets

- Belfast Creative Coalition will be a resource for professional development for the creative economic sector. We will:
through our community needs assessments, clarify skill-building needs of the sector and develop or facilitate access to training: small business development, entrepreneurial training, professional skill-builders such as marketing, sector trends, accessing investment capital
partner with existing delivery systems such as UMaine, Cooperative Extension, Maine Centers for Women Work and Community, Fractured Atlas, and the Small Business Administration
assist with other needs by exploring options in areas such as health and liability insurance, technology, and equipment that can be collectively pursued and leveraged

- Belfast Creative Coalition will be an ambassador and enabler of creativity in the region for all ages - identify and work to develop more public venues for art displays, such as a revolving youth art display at City Hall, work to increase arts visibility and link artists with under-represented venues such as heath care facilities, and connect with schools and other youth-serving agencies to explore partnerships, exhibitions, and residencies

- With the strength of the membership behind it, Belfast Creative Coalition will be a passionate advocate for the creative economic sector. We will:
seek opportunities for codification of public support for the arts, e.g. a countywide percent for art program
collaborate with other regions and other creative sector intermediaries in the state to address statewide issues such as policy, funding, and economic development.

Have they changed over time?
For the first year, these goals have been honed and prioritized into four main areas of focus:
-Unifying the efforts of a well-recognized and highly-respected cluster of arts and cultural endeavors, building collaborative partnerships with multiple sectors, while establishing a cohesive identity as an open resource.WHAT IS OPEN RESOURCE?
-Coordinating arts and cultural events through the Belfast Creative Coalition website, calendar syncing, networking, strategic planning, and streamlining promotions.
-Marketing Waldo County arts and culture locally and regionally, coordinating group ads, creating marketing products from the arts and culture sector that market Belfast’s three gems of art, local food and beautiful land.
-Facilitating “the business of art and culture” by fostering an entrepreneurial spirit amongst creatives, hosting artist networking nights and disseminating opportunities in education, technology, innovation and funding that prepare and sustain our creative workforce.

While the City looks to BCC as a leader of the creative sector, CIty officials realized they were not ready for BCC to be involved in reviewing funding requests to the City, as a streamlining effort.
Who are the project partners and stakeholders?
The City of Belfast, the seat of Waldo County, is a small city of approximately 6,700 people, with an annual budget of approximately $5,000,000. Despite its small population and limited financial resources, Belfast is committed to a diversified and robust economy that will create quality, good-paying employment opportunities. It has recently stepped up its economic development efforts by hiring a full-time economic development director, financially supporting the Belfast Region Chamber of Commerce and Our Town Belfast, developing amenities that bring more visitors to the area, such as the Belfast Harbor Walk, and developing business-friendly infrastructure such as the Belfast Municipal Airport and the Belfast Airport Business Park.

Our Town Belfast’s mission is to promote intown businesses and encourage historic preservation of the downtown. In March of 2010, OTB morphed from the independent Belfast Downtown Business Group into a Maine Downtown Network Community, and 15 months later became a Main Street community. OTB is a vibrant and inclusive social, arts and cultural effort that initiates and supports community and creative sustainability in downtown Belfast. The Main Street Program is a national movement that has spanned three decades and taken root in more than 2,000 communities - a movement that has spurred $49 billion in reinvestment in traditional commercial districts, galvanized thousands of volunteers, and changed the way governments, planners, and developers view preservation. OTB’s Board of Directors is comprised of fifteen local citizen volunteers representing business owners, property owners, employees, and community members.

Waterfall Arts(WFA) is a non-profit 501 (c)(3) contemporary arts center in Belfast and Montville whose mission is to create community in harmony with nature through the transformative power of the arts. Founded in 2000 at the original rustic campus of Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Montville, summer residencies and classes took inspiration from the site’s waterfalls and merging streams. With the support of the City of Belfast, WFA purchased the former Governor Anderson School in Belfast and began offering year-round programming in 2006. Now thousands of people enjoy this hub of creative activity through WFA’s exhibitions, art classes and workshops, artist residencies, studio rentals, and events of all kinds. WFA collaborates with many organizations to improve access to arts and culture. One example: the Belfast Farmer’s Market now resides in WFA’s backyard for it’s six months of operation, thanks to a recent grant from Bangor Savings Bank to upgrade WFA’s backyard surface.

University of Maine Fredrick E. Hutchinson Center is an outreach campus for the University of Maine. Located in Belfast Maine, The Hutchinson Center serves as an educational and cultural hub for the mid-coast community. Offering Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree, non-credit courses, leadership training, and a conference in our state-of-the-art facilities, the Hutchinson Center is wealth of invaluable resources for the region.

Penobscot Marine Museum
The Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport, Maine, is Maine’s oldest maritime museum and is designed to preserve and educate people regarding Maine’s and Searsport’s rich and unique maritime and shipbuilding history. Designed as a unique 19th century seafaring village, the museum encompasses thirteen historic and modern buildings, houses a modern exhibit gallery features annual shows and is home to a regionally important library and archives focused on maritime history and regional genealogy.
Project Specifics
How was the project implemented? What were the steps taken?
BCC was created through a CC=ED grant from the Maine Arts Commission. The $50,000 award established a coalition of arts and cultural groups, educational, nonprofit, business, and municipal leaders who have a “strong commitment to inter-sector collaboration” and are dedicated to economic and community planning and development in a comprehensive revitalization effort.

Steps included:
Starting in December, 2011, bi-monthly executive committee meeting of 3 partner organizations.
A coordinator was hired in February, 2012 with office established at Our Town Belfast. The coordinator meets with BCC President bi-monthly. Waterfall Arts administers the grant and bookkeeping.
Executive Committee expanded membership.
First tried to create a membership sign up, then decided to postpone until BCC was “built”
Created a common calendar for this events-based sector.
Web-design professional sought, and map-based website generated that has consistent growth.
A ‘Calendar Sync’ meeting was formed, now meeting monthly with at least 15 event organizers regularly attending.
Created several Group Marketing Opportunities with over 20 participants, what was the reach?
Artist Networking Nights formed. 150 artists attended
Held public talks --Jackie Battenfield, artist and author, and Julie Richard, new director of the Maine Arts Commission.
Researched obtaining 501c3 nonprofit status.
Successful grantwriting and requesting funds from the City.
Have they been refined over time?
On line ‘calendar’ became and arts and cultural promotional website.
Website also became the central hub for group marketing efforts locally, regionally, and nationally.
Calendar Sync meetings became “Networking Breakfasts” for Arts and Culture Non-profits and Event planners - more networking and sharing of events.
Obstacles
What were your major obstacles?

1. An overly ambitious action plan with a parttime coordinator and Executive Committee run by very busy professionals that run other non-profits.

2. The constant need for ongoing funding and competing with Ex Com member groups for grant and city funds

3. Lack of community understanding of what creative economy is, even with City officials, and lack of good local economic data to define it

4. Common confusion about the different economic development grps -- BCC, Our Town Belfast, Belfast Chamber of Commerce, and the City’s Economic Development Director

5. Constant conversation internally of how to grow the economy “and not wreck the place.”
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
1. Streamlined our efforts - reduced artist networking nights to 4 x a year. Hired an intern to do data entry on the ‘newspaper like’ arts and culture promotional website. Moved membership building to second year 2. Discussing upcoming grants together, and collaborating on some proposals; thinking broadly about income sources, and working towards receiving TIFF funds 3. Continually presenting to the City Council and other stakeholder groups, and updating our internal definition of Creative Economy and data research 4. Establish monthly meetings amongst the 4 entities, publicly defining the scope of the creative sector with unique and distinctive needs different from traditional businesses. 5. Focus on preserving “quality of place” through strengthening the capacity of artists and farmers through Farm & Art Studio Tour and business development support; ensuring marketing efforts are genuine and respect the entire community
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project? field is required.


Focus on face to face relationship building

Give time to build organization’s programming and structure before rushing to solicit individual dues from the community, so that responsive membership benefits can be developed.

Require the representative from the partners -- municipality, downtown group and arts group -- be someone with a position of authority in their organization who also keeps their governing bodies regularly apprised of activities.
Project Impact
How has this project contributed to creative community building?
Year one was spent building the playing field, ie creating the infrastructure: a database of the creative sector, a state-of-the-art map-based calendar website, professional development presentations. Year Two, will focus on bringing more “creatives” on board utilizing the services.
Strategic Plan for creative place-making is begin created.
Calendar and event planning incredibly appreciated by local event organizers and event planners that had grown beyond the ability to organize just through volunteers.
Creative economy is now not just reliant on the availability of volunteers, but has a focused organization behind it.
The BCC website directory demonstrates the numbers of the creative cluster, especially important to funders.
Though not one entity can claim a "fantastic summer", feet on the street was noticeably up. BCC's marketing efforts through group ads in regional media outlets contributed.
BCC has started to measure creative economy impact and provide education on its value.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
Officially coalesced the City Council around supporting the creative sector, which we hope will lead to a adoption of an economic development strategic plan.

Group calendar became innovative arts and cultural promotional website that is map-based instead of calendar-based.

Brought the economic development players to the same table, fostering regular conversation and collaboration.

Brought the creative sector together through enrichment public presentations by national arts leaders. In August, one hundred artists from the state of Maine gathered to hear Jackie Battenfield lecture on her book "The Artist's Guide - Making a Living Doing What You Love". In October, BCC hosted a networking breakfast of 50 community leaders to welcome the new director of the Maine Arts Commission and hear about the progress of BCC's first year.

In the first year, posted 438 arts and culture events and venues were added to the website.

Raised $25,000 in funding

Purchased $4000 in advertisement for the sector and coordinated an additional$4000 in group advertisements with over 20 galleries and non-organizations participating.

Coordinatoed over five hundred volunteer hours totaling over $16,000 in cash matches.

The Google analytics show that the website sees traffic not only from visitors already in the Belfast area but also a substantial number of visitors from Bangor, Rockland, Portland, Boston, New York, Washington, and other places. The longer site viewing durations from Boston and Portland visitors (almost 12 minutes and 8 ½ respectively, compared to 2 minutes on average from local visitors) suggest trip planning. The site has also established a solid referral base of 25%, indicating that other organizations are supportive and have added links to the BCC’s website. The site’s return rate (the percentage of visits made by previous visitors to the site) is an exceptionally high 43.86%



Were there unexpected impacts?
A major emphasis for 2013 developed through relationship-building with a farm-advocacy organization. We are now pooling resources to promote ecotourism in Waldo County through the creation of the Waldo County Farm & Art Studio Tour.
And fortunately, our map-based website is all set to create a cultural itinerary ‘app’ for the BCC as well as the Farm & Art Studio Tour.