Portland, ME

Contact Name
Dinah Minot
Project Dates
October 15, 2016 to Jan 16, 2017 (3 months)
Workshop Leader
Creative Communities Exchange (CCX) 2017
Tags
Networking, Design, Workforce Development
Finding the balance between DIY and community engagement is a real challenge when under a deadline, but I found that setting the date and sending out a "Grand Opening" invitation inspired me to do what it takes to get the job done. Cultivating relationships and including the community in the process makes it all possible, especially when we are wearing many hats and/or only have a staff of one or two. I could have taken some of the weight off of myself had I asked for specific help from my board members. I probably could have avoided major crunch time at the end. I was new on the job, and I learned from my mistakes. It takes courage to reach out to the community to ask for donations. Being willing to ask and negotiate in a firm yet charming manner is key.



Project Goals
What were the specific goals of this creative economy project? Describe the community development challenge or opportunity that your project was designed to address:
The goal of this space development project was to engage with the community, forge new relationships and create a beautiful welcome center and office environment on a shoestring budget.
If the goals change over time, please describe how:
The opportunities were presented as the process unfolded. Very early on, a community arts center became the new goal. Curating an art exhibit and soliciting established and emerging artists became a passionate objective as I immersed myself in the community, bounced arounds some ideas and upped my networking efforts.
As the space began to take shape, other nonprofit organizations and fledging community groups walked by and asked about using our space for their own community meetings. Yes, yes , yes! Our new goal changed to become more about welcoming the arts community than curating an office space for our own small staff. "Yes, let's try that" or "Yes, we can think about helping you with this."
Who was involved in this project and what did they do? (be sure to include the partners from outside of the creative sector and how local voices were included):
Reaching out to the board for support was the first "ask," followed by a "tell" to family members. With an architect on our board and skilled laborers, we launched our efforts with a permit issued for construction only two months before we opened our doors in a grand opening ribbon cutting ceremony with the mayor, city manager, congressional leaders, developers, artists, hotel owners, city council members, directors of arts and culture institutions, nonprofits, caterers, bakers, farmers, and shop owners.
Identifying enthusiastic, supportive partners and participants in the private sector made the biggest difference, from home goods stores to private business "angels" who helped steamroll the project to fruition.
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
A community development strategy focuses on identifying the community need and then adapting priorities and initiatives to meet those goals while embracing the community's input, perspectives and resources.
What projects or places, if any, inspired your approach to this creative economy project?
Working on a live television show, "Saturday Night Live" trained me to collaborate, problem solve and work efficiently with the community to engage a diverse skill set to get the job done, quickly and efficiently.
Project Specifics
Please list the steps taken to implement the project:
The board president secured the space and signed a lease, after the city provided a renovation loan.
Board member and architect presented drawings and blueprints for construction, a makeshift kitchenette and upgrading heating and air conditioning units.
A building permit was granted on November 21.
Construction began after Thanksgiving.
Working closely with a small renovation team, we made decisions about polishing cement floors, adding partition walls and two small huddle offices. The rest of the space was designed as a single use office and open floor plan, for multi- functional purposes, including communal gatherings, conferences, performances and events.
DIY painting, hunting down furniture and second hand options contributed to the eclectic DIY interior design.
Curating a community art exhibit representing 18 local artists, was hung and received by 100 luminaries in the arts & culture community.
If the project steps changed over time, please describe how:
Initially, the architect provided a floor plan for desks and interior design layout. A local business offered to help with the interior design.
Recognizing our lack of budget for finishing work and office furniture, however, we were forced to consider second hand furniture. Nonprofits often need to "beg, borrow and steal, " and we were extremely grateful to discover a welcoming and generous community from the framers, to the flooring people, the lights, benches, desks, sofas, chairs, etc. The whole community got involved. It looked so great that we planned to host a big opening party. Local caterers agreed to provide the food for our grand opening, and another board member secured 2 cases of wine for the party. Our board president's husband, an accomplished artist and woodworker, agreed to lend us his beautiful 12' conference table, a work of art for sale. We made one trip to IKEA to create the kitchen and to purchase matching chairs for the conference table. I bought giant paper globe lanterns to hang as our center lighting fixtures, and my husband and I painted the space with the help of a board member and a few friends. Phase 1 is complete. We are in the space and operating! How we develop as a gallery, as a host, and/or as a resource center will remain to be discovered .
Obstacles
What were your major obstacles for the completion of the project?
The biggest obstacle was lack of funds and lack of staff. This is the time, however, to persevere and pull up our boot straps. Build it and they will come.
The second obstacle was not clearly defining the tasks at hand. Who was doing what? Was the architect in charge of getting the certificate of occupancy or was that the contractor's responsibility. Was I expected to buy the screws for the electric outlets? These small details were never discussed.
One potential obstacle could have been having a large renovation team. Fortunately for me, we did not. So many decisions are style choices and need to be made quickly.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
The community and the support of our board president, who happened to get sick during most of the renovation.
She was encouraging and trusted me to make decisions on the spot.

For instance, I was able to curate the first art exhibit with my own vision and choices. It was important to have diverse representation, including students, established artists, immigrants, emerging artists, etc
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
1. Start small, think big.
2. Networking is key and contacts are important. Don't be afraid to ask for help and donations.
3. Connect the dots and create a construction schedule, as well as clearly defined responsibilities for finishing the tasks.
Project Impact
How has this project strategically connected arts and cultural activities to social, economic, and cultural issues in your community? What is different in your community as a result of this project?
Portland now has its first arts center providing the following opportunities: showcasing established and emerging artists' work for sale, pro bono legal services to the arts community, cultivated a new fiscal sponsorship, provided a conference space and a performance space for nonprofit and other creative sector organizations. In the first month of operation, we have already held a grand opening party, community gathering for a citywide cultural plan initiative, hosted a First Friday Art Walk in-house art exhibit , provided conference and meeting space for Maine College of Art (MECA's) current presidential search committee's interviews, and offered performance space to Portland's Portfringe for an upcoming citywide pop-up production of Macbeth
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
Our original goal was to open an office space with the hope of gaining a street presence for our organization to engage the community.
Our physical presence validates us on the ground and sends out a positive message that we are here to engage and represent the arts and culture community, in the heart of the arts district across the street from MECA, and down the street from the Portland Museum of Art (PMA), the pride of the local creative economy.
How did you measure this success or progress?
We have measured success by the new interaction and the new requests from the community to get involved and/or take advantage of what we have to offer.
Based on the local press welcoming the new arts hub, as well as key leaders from the arts community and creative economy - private and public sectors- showing up to our opening and cultural plan workshops. Community support and engagement, even on a small scale, illustrates success. It's a new beginning, and we are confident about our growth potential.
Please describe any unexpected impacts:
With our new street visibility and beautiful space, we have attracted people who are curious and willing to consider volunteering and getting involved. Our numbers will build, as we create trust and praise for programs we improve and initiate.

As a small organization, with 1.75 employees, one of the impacts has been the realization that we need the board and volunteers to step up to help man the space, like a retail store, so I can continue to go out to meetings and network in the community.
CCX Workshop Handout