Oxford, Franklin & northern Androscoggin Counties, ME

Contact Name
Aranka K. Matolcsy
Project Dates
January 1 to December 31, 2013
Tags
Networking
The Western Maine Passport to the Arts is the first economic development initiative to launch in Western Maine using the vibrant arts and cultural network of Oxford, northern Androscoggin and Franklin Counties as the backbone of a rich, new tourism network. The program was developed and is managed by a collaborative of 501(c)3 nonprofit organizations as a way to build the regional economy and increase impact and reach of regional businesses and organizations through shared resources and collective marketing. The Western Maine Passport to the Arts is a powerful cultural tourism tool designed to increase the customer base through a network of Western Maine inns, B&Bs, hotels, motels, campgrounds, restaurants, cafés and eateries while increasing attendance at performing art
Project Goals
What were the project goals?
The Western Maine Passport to the Arts has two primary goals:
1) Increasing the customer base and business opportunities at performing arts venues, galleries and other cultural outlets partnered with a network of Western Maine inns, B&Bs, hotels, motels, campgrounds, restaurants, cafés and eateries.
2)Increasing communications and marketing capacity among arts outlets and businesses throughout a 3-county region.
Have they changed over time?
No, the project will launch for sales before Christmas for a validation period of January 1 to December 31, 2013.
Who are the project partners and stakeholders?
The board of directors of the following respective organizations have appointed the following representatives to administer the Western Maine Arts+ Business Collaborative that created the Western Maine Passport to the Arts:
Aranka Matolcsy, Exec. Dir, MAhoosuc Arts Council
Glen Holmes, Exec. Dir. Western Maine Economic Development Council
Many Huotari, Exec. Dir, Celebration Barn Theater
Phil McIntyre, Artistic Director, Skye Theatre
Project Specifics
How was the project implemented? What were the steps taken?
This project sets a precedent in Western Maine with the support, participation and sponsorship of the Western Maine Economic Development Council (WMEDC) on an arts-based initiative for the first time in history. Two years ago, its former director saw the potential of arts as a new economic driver in the region and began a cultural survey assessing the need for a cultural tourism tool with the support of the Maine Center of Creativity and the Western Maine Cultural Alliance. The framework for the passport started developing in the fall of 2011 and in January, a new economic development director, Glen Holmes, took over and took the project head on due to his keen recognition of arts as a dynamic new economic wave.

The support the WMEDC coupled with the Bethel Area Nonprofit Collaborative - which developed protocol and administrative format for large, complex collaborative - helped this project take off like a rocket while establishing a committed consortium of arts and business partners to be the passport network.

Since, a steering committee for the Arts+Biz Collaborative comprised of the following has been meeting two times per month: Aranka Matolcsy, Exec. Dir, MAhoosuc Arts Council; Glen Holmes, Exec. Dir. Western Maine Economic Development Council; Many Huotari, Exec. Dir, Celebration Barn Theater; Phil McIntyre, Artistic Director, Skye Theatre; Toni Seger, Western Maine Cultural Alliance and Irina Kahn, Western Maine Art Group.


Have they been refined over time?
Over the past two years, this steering committee has developed and refined a variety of materials and protocols regarding administration, fiscal oversight, marketing and funding. As things have been implemented in the process of developing the network, we have refined wording, documentation and a number of details based on feedback.
Obstacles
What were your major obstacles?
Our biggest challenge is being located in a rural area which has a limited perspective and experience with the power and potential of the creative economy and/or cross-sector collaboration.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
The director of the largest economic developmental agency in the region has taken a strong and visible position in support of creative economy.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
1)Seek help, advice, training and consulting from other like organizations which have carried out similar, successful collaborations to learn how to collaborate on capacity-building levels.
2)Establish a strong and visible collaborator in the business sector.
3)Work with a variety of organizations in the collaborative to brand this project to ensure all elements are represented in a first, but lasting impression.
Project Impact
How has this project contributed to creative community building?
This project has resulted in the development of a comprehensive cultural survey of the Western Maine Region. A by product of that is the most active list of arts contacts in the region which is being shared with permission among the growing network. Also, the Sky Theatre and Mahoosuc Arts Council began a collaborative Celtic Concert Series in Bethel after meeting as part of this project. In addition, the Western Maine Economic Development Director took an opportunity to meet with Maine Arts. Exec. Dir. Julie Richards to convey his recognition of the potential in cultural tourism and creative economy. Finally, the Western Maine Passport to the Arts is resulting in the need for a paid director and has thus created a new job in the region.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
Since the project really took off with a timeline and marketing plan in January 2012, there has been a significant increase in communications and marketing among arts outlets and businesses throughout this 3-county region. As we have not implemented the program yet, we can not evaluate the ultimate goal of increasing the bottom lines for arts outlets and services businesses.
Were there unexpected impacts?
Although collaboratives of this kind naturally spawn new partnerships and programs, we are thrilled to have a block booking partnership result between the Skye Theatre and Mahoosuc Arts Coun cil. Subsequently, Skye has been having other talks with venues new to the network, about block presentations in 2013-14.