A woman with a music stand presents at a meeting

Portland, ME

Contact Name
Dinah Minot
Project Dates
October 2016-December 2018
Workshop Leader
Creative Communities Exchange (CCX) 2019
Municipal government and planning, Design
In the fall of 2016, Creative Portland began the process of updating Portland’s cultural plan of 1998 to develop a vision and plan for the creative economy of Portland and the region. The two-year process involved community meetings, interviews with creative economy stakeholders, workgroup development, an arts & culture summit (the first since 2008) and a finalized written report. Creative Portland reported the identification of strategic priorities, a checklist of progress, recommendations for future initiatives, and plans for implementation.
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 most recent cultural plan for Portland was published in 1998, nearly 20 years before the beginning of this project. Portland had changed dramatically over that time and it has been necessary to re-assess community needs, gaps, and opportunities. Our cultural planning goal was to assess where we are today and to take advantage of alignments of missions, goals, and interests of arts and cultural organizations, city agencies, and stakeholders to make the best use of community assets and achieve ambitious goals of sustainability practices for the creative community. A purpose statement and goal identified by the community in Phase 1 was to “make the collective arts, culture, and creative economy of Portland more visible and provide more support to arts organizations, individuals and creative businesses through collaborations and other means.” Goals for Phase 2 were twofold: 1) reach agreement among the various constituent groups on key issues brought up in Phase 1 and share a draft working agenda with a broader group for input and buy-in, and 2) engage steering committee members to assess data, highlight community progress addressing strategic priorities, and incorporate feedback from workgroup leaders in a living Action Plan with recommendations for tackling those strategies. A written document will be presented for approval by the City Council, which will make Creative Portland eligible to apply for a $75,000 implementation grant (disbursed over three years) from the Maine Arts Commission to address one of the strategies identified in the planning process.
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):
Creative Portland hired CivicMoxie (a Boston-based planning, urban design, and placemaking consulting group) to carry out Phase 1 interviews, focus groups, and research into current strategic alignments of Portland’s cultural organizations. Those surveyed represented over 50 creative businesses, arts and cultural organizations, community activists, and city government departments. Three initiatives arose out of Phase 1 and each was led by a member of Portland’s creative community. Creative Portland staff planned and carried out the Phase 2 arts & culture summit with the help of many volunteers from the community. The final report was assembled by Creative Portland staff with input from steering committee members and key stakeholders representing Portland Public Library, the City of Portland Planning Department, USM’s Muskie School of Public Policy, and arts administrators who had been involved in the process for over two years.
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
The City of Portland recently completed a comprehensive plan entitled Portland 2030, which was adopted unanimously by the City Council in June 2017. Members of the City’s planning department were included in all three stages of the cultural planning process, including giving a presentation at Phase 2’s arts & culture summit on where the arts and creative economy are incorporated into Portland 2030. Creative Portland also regularly participates in the Economic Development Steering Committee (EDSC) with the heads of the Economic Development Department, Portland Downtown, Visit Portland, and the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce.
What projects or places, if any, inspired your approach to this creative economy project?
In Phase 1, prior work done in Portland over the past 20 years was reviewed, including the 1998 cultural plan and the first Creative Economy Summit held in 2008. Community workgroups that arose during Phase 2 looked at Meow Wolf in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria, Virginia, for inspiration in the pursuit of an art center.
Project Specifics
Please list the steps taken to implement the project:
Background work prior to the planning effort itself consisted of securing grant funding from the Maine Arts Commission and the Portland Economic Development Plan Implementation Program (PEDPIP). The planning effort was comprised of three phases. Phase 1 - Laying the Groundwork consisted of interviews with 50 community leaders and stakeholders, conducted by a Boston-based urban design consulting company, CivicMoxie. In addition, over a half dozen community meetings were convened by CivicMoxie and Creative Portland to address successes, concerns, and gaps that need attention in the arts & culture sector. Phase 2 - Getting Down to Action involved workgroups convening individually to tackle priority initiatives, and an arts & culture summit to present feedback on what was learned and shared to date. Phase 3 - Putting it all Together consists of a written report that provides a framework for the Cultural Plan’s strategic priorities for ongoing conversation, as well as recommendations for tracking implementation of an action plan.
If the project steps changed over time, please describe how:
The cultural planning process was imagined as a three-step process from the outset, but the content of the last two steps morphed over time. For instance, it was not initially planned to hold an arts & culture summit as the culmination of Phase 2, but it became apparent over Phase 1 and the beginning of Phase 2 that a community meeting would be a beneficial part of the process to share work done to date, cultivate buy in, and present a call to action on community initiatives.
What were your major obstacles for the completion of the project?
Creative Portland received early feedback that the community was exhausted from multiple surveys and community meetings and that there was real concern about launching an ambitious planning process. People wanted to focus on top priorities and action and to build from where the city already was, as opposed to beginning from scratch. A secondary concern was confidence in the community’s ability to follow through. Creative Portland was reminded several times of the lack of action following the 1998 cultural plan, as well as several other well-meaning initiatives that ended up on the shelf. Low and irregular attendance at work group meetings was also an obstacle.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
Creative Portland took a leadership position throughout the process. We participated in many one-on-one and small group meetings to cultivate community buy-in. Creative Portland also reached out to people directly to ask them to participate in interviews, focus groups, and the Phase 2 work groups. During the process, we recognized that presulting cultural plan update needed to be an ongoing discussion - a living action plan with recommendations for checks and balances and an intentional focus on problem-solving and finding solutions through collaboration.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
1) Gather together a steering committee of passionate and committed stakeholders.
2) Define goals for the cultural planning process.
3) Ask your steering committee to help with canvassing the community up front to see if they are willing to allocate the necessary time to the process.
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?
The cultural planning process has increased collaboration, set up a framework for action, and created a process through which to assess progress. Prior to this process, arts and cultural organizations in Portland were largely working in silos and not partnering on projects and sharing resources. We have seen increased levels of partnership and resource sharing across artistic disciplines and with non-arts businesses. The three strategic priorities identified in the process (1 - Celebrate Portland as a creative city with Congress Street as the spine with a focus on experience design; 2 - Provide visibility and professional development/support for artists and creative entrepreneurs; 3 - Advocate for maintaining and growing affordable live, work, and performance space in Portland) all provide more opportunities for such collaboration aligned with forward motion and initiative. We have already seen action in line with these priorities, including the establishment of nonprofit and for-profit work spaces for artists, both on and off the peninsula, and the awarding of a $15,000 PEDPIP grant to Creative Portland to hire an experience design professional consultant.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
We successfully created an update with community support and feedback despite initially meeting resistance. The plan clearly states the priorities, objectives, and progress to date, providing a format in which to document process, including an annual check in to maintain accountability. We are already seeing additional progress being made towards reaching these objectives, all of which serves to strengthen the creative economy of Portland.
How did you measure this success or progress?
The final report contains a chart of action plan priority recommendations, which includes the three priorities that resulted from the planning process paired with objectives that address that priority and the progress toward that objective to date. This chart will be updated with additional progress points in the coming years, and one of the objectives includes holding an annual summit to focus on planning strategies.
Please describe any unexpected impacts:
The process of outreach for the final report, including communication, sign off, and distribution can be delayed, depending on city council agendas and other constituencies and groups that want the opportunity to first weigh in on a penultimate draft of the finished report.
CCX Workshop Handout