Lewiston and Auburn, ME

Contact Name
Tyson Pease
Project Dates
August 2015–September 2016
Workshop Leader
Creative Communities Exchange (CCX) 2017
Tags
Research
After years of recession, the twin cities of Lewiston and Auburn, Maine have recently seen potential growing for cultural and economic revitalization. Starting in 2015, local arts agency L/A Arts seized the opportunity to coordinate a yearlong cultural planning process to develop a strategic roadmap for LA’s revitalization through arts-based and cultural initiatives. In partnership with a consultant, L/A Arts navigated the process of gathering cross-sector leaders, facilitating conversations on how to enact local positive change through arts and culture, carried out a regional public survey campaign, analyzed the survey data, formulated priorities to structure the cultural plan, finalized the plan using local feedback, and presented it to LA city councils for adoption.
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 original goal of this effort was to create a plan and raise funds to help promote Lewiston Auburn’s arts and culture. LA has long held an unfavorable reputation in the state of Maine and experienced low tourism rates compared to the rest of the state (a state known as “Vacationland”). Yet LA is an increasingly diverse place with a living, growing arts and culture scene.
If the goals change over time, please describe how:
Over time the initiative become a full cultural planning process, the end goal of which was to produce a comprehensive yet feasible roadmap toward economic revitalization for Lewiston and Auburn through arts and culture.
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):
Cultural Plan LA was created in collaboration with a Steering Committee and a Guidance Committee composed of representatives of the Lewiston Auburn municipalities and creative organizations and with broad community participation from the greater LA area. The concepts and solutions in the plan were shaped by residents and stakeholders. Involved were representatives from the following municipal entities, organizations, and businesses:
• Androscoggin Historical Society
• Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments
• Auburn City Council
• Auburn City Planning
• Auburn Public Library
• Auburn Public Schools
• Bates College Harward Center for Community Partnerships
• Bates College Museum of Art
• Bates College Olin Arts Center
• City of Auburn Economic Development
• City of Lewiston Economic & Community Development
• Community Little Theatre
• Downtown Handmade & Vintage
• Emerge Film Festival
• Gendron Franco Center
• Grow L+A
• Kimball Street Studios
• LA Metro Chamber
• L’Hommedieu Law Office, P.A.
• Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council
• Lewiston City Council
• Lewiston Public Library
• Lewiston Public Schools
• Linnell, Choate & Webber, LLP
• Maine Folque Co-Op
• Maine Music Society
• Maine’s Lakes & Mountains Tourism Council
• Maine State Senate
• Museum L-A
• Outright L-A
• Pilotage
• The Public Theatre
• Round Point Movies
• Sofia Fima
• Studio A Architecture
• Sun Journal
• Tree Street Youth
• Union of Maine Visual Artists, LA Chapter
• Wicked Illustrations Studio and Gallery

Additionally, L/A Arts worked closely with consulting firm Reinholt Consulting, which had previously created a cultural plan with the High Peaks region of western Maine.
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
Advances in technology over the past decade enabled development of new and low-cost methods for tracking and measuring the economic impact arts and culture have on local economies. Today the creative economy is broadly recognized as a viable tool for economic development. Communities now have access to a growing body of data to support planning initiatives aimed at cultivating the creative economy.

Both Lewiston and Auburn recently completed Comprehensive Plans recognizing arts and culture as necessary components to social well-being, community building, and continued revitalization and creative economic growth.

To remain competitive in an innovative global market, cities need to provide an adequate environment that attracts creative capital. Characteristics of competitive environments include arts and cultural resources, entertainment options, aesthetic streetscapes and walkways, community interaction, educational assets, and recreational amenities. Cultural planning can help communities address opportunities for development that span and enhance important public agendas, including community building, downtown revitalization, economic development, lifelong learning, public health, and public safety.

Recent years have presented an important time to gather the creative potential that LA holds and focus it to create an identity that reflects LA’s history, present, and future. This collaborative effort increases awareness of the importance of the arts in economic development and their role in increasing quality of life and social well-being.
What projects or places, if any, inspired your approach to this creative economy project?
Cultural plans and plan development narratives from Chicago; Maricopa County, AZ; and the High Peaks region of western Maine informed initial development strategies for creating Lewiston Auburn’s plan. Cultural plan development resources from British Columbia also aided in planning.
Project Specifics
Please list the steps taken to implement the project:
Cultural Plan LA’s priorities and strategies were generated through a series of equally important steps that were carried out over a period of ten months. Each step built upon information provided by the community at the preceding step.

• Step 1: Initial Research – This included examining existing plans to ensure Cultural Plan LA built on and linked to the current LA goals, visions, and agendas.

• Step 2: Qualitative Data Collection – L/A Arts hosted a launch steering committee meeting and four Community Conversations with key stakeholders, including artists and cultural organizations, business leaders and municipal representatives, youth participants. Conversations focused on identifying community perspectives on LA’s cultural strengths and realities to be addressed.

• Step 3: Quantitative Data Collection – L/A Arts and Reinholt Consulting designed and issued three surveys to test the values and priorities that emerged from the qualitative data. The surveys drew feedback from three distinct populations: the LA Public Opinion Survey focused on the value, reach, and relevance of arts and culture in LA; the Artist & Maker Survey and the Creative Businesses & Cultural Organization Survey were designed to assess needs, challenges, and perspectives of LA’s creative professionals and businesses.

• Step 4: Identifying Priorities – The consultant team recommended priorities based on careful analysis of qualitative and quantitative data. L/A Arts and Guidance and Steering committees vetted the recommended priorities. All participants of previous conversations were invited to attend public forums to review the data findings and recommended priorities. Inclusion of community feedback into the plan framework helped ensure the priorities reflect LA’s needs and aspirations.

• Step 5: Refining the Draft Plan – Four additional meetings with Guidance and Steering committees focused on refining the cultural plan’s draft priorities, key stakeholders, implementation timeline, and final formatting.
If the project steps changed over time, please describe how:
Primarily refinements were scheduling-based: the number and dates of Guidance and Steering Committee meetings changed, and the survey window widened to ensure there was a greater and more reliable amount of data to analyze. Additionally, the plan document itself went through more revisions than planned to ensure its layout and structure met approval from local constituents.
Obstacles
What were your major obstacles for the completion of the project?
1. Ensuring that the voices and perspectives of all of Lewiston Auburn’s wide array of people, including New Mainer immigrants who had joined the LA community relatively recently;

2. Honing and grouping the many strategies of the draft cultural plan into a document that is comprehensive but not overwhelming
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
For both obstacles, communicating clearly with and relying on established and newly developed community partnerships was key—just as in all collaborative endeavors.

Cross-sector constituents at the table during Steering Committee meetings had direct ties to social service centers that could bring surveys to New Mainers and assist them in understanding and completing them. Thanks to this and similar efforts, final survey demographics presented a high confidence interval by closely matching the most recent regional census data.

Ongoing meetings with Guidance and Steering committees provided opportunities to collectively brainstorm on how to focus the draft plan and present its information—key partners, timelines, action steps, etc.—in ways to ensure its usefulness.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
1. Prioritize open, clear, and economical communication with your community partners.
2. Know when to speak and when to listen.
3. Like in all collaborations, trust the process! Cultural planning is long and difficult, but it must be; many of the relationships needed to implement the plan successfully are formed during the cultural planning process itself.
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?
Lewiston Auburn now has a blueprint, adopted by both city councils, for revitalization through a range of arts-based and cultural initiatives. Efforts to implement a range of the plan’s strategies are already underway.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
One of the five overarching priorities of Cultural Plan LA is focused on improving and promoting the brand of Lewiston Auburn as a growing and thriving arts and culture destination, which addresses directly the effort’s original intention. The finished cultural plan and its adoption by both city councils represents a deeper, broader, and more impactful plan than just outreach and promotion.
How did you measure this success or progress?
• Number of Guidance and Steering Committee members and range of local sectors represented
• Completion of two community conversations with the public
• Number of completed surveys
• Completed five-year cultural plan
• Adoption of plan by both Lewiston and Auburn city councils
Please describe any unexpected impacts:
One of our Steering Committee members remarked at a meeting that, never in her years of local experience had she known of representatives from this wide swath of local sectors coming together to talk about LA’s revitalization or arts and culture’s role in this—and yet, here we were. While we at L/A Arts knew we were creating this opportunity, the weight of it once realized—along with the enduring relationships that we formed or deepened while working together on the plan—have been a wonderful surprise.
CCX Workshop Handout