Portland Cultural Community Registration Reveals Business Difficulties, But Also Optimism

The story is mixed for Portland’s arts and culture organizations and individuals as they navigate the pandemic.

Some in the visual arts have turned to online offerings, outdoor public works, and limited gallery hours. The performing arts had a harder time.

The challenges could worsen over the coming fall and winter months, said Dinah Minot, executive director of Creative Portland, the city’s non-profit arts agency.

Minot hosted an arts and culture webinar on Tuesday that called on various Portland cultural leaders to share what’s going on in their nonprofit organizations and businesses.

“We are aware of the challenges ahead for all artists and arts organizations,” she said.

A Creative Portland survey in July found that nearly half of Portland’s cultural organizations operate solely online. A small number are open in physical environments with limited hours; others are completely closed.

“The past six months have been tough for all of us,” said Kate Anker, Founder of Running with Scissors Studios and Chair of the Creative Portland Board of Directors.

Running with Scissors offers studio space and equipment to 75 member artists. It has closed for more than two months, reduced working hours and lost 23 members and will likely lose a few more by the end of the year, Anker said. She has lost 30% of her income compared to the same period a year ago. The organization planned to open an in-house gallery and store, but had to put the project on hold. In mid-June, the facility reopened its doors to members and over the past month, artists returned to the site.

“We are slowly starting to rebuild,” Anker said. “We are very hopeful about all of this. “

Cultural application

Creative Portland has been closed since March, has put its staff on leave, and suspended in-person programs, such as First Friday Art Walks and its in-person art gallery. Among its initiatives, the organization has moved art exhibitions to an online gallery and is developing a cultural digital app designed to be a one-stop-shop for consumers to learn about events and individual artists.

Users will be able to download the application for free. Depending on their membership, artists will be able to sign up for various features, such as an “augmented reality” feature and other visuals linked to physical locations.

“The purpose of these digital tools that we are offering is to increase the visibility of arts and culture organizations and local artists in Portland,” said app developer Sam Mateosian, co-founder of Big Room Studios and Yarn Corporation, both of them, creative technology companies.

The goal of Creative Portland’s cultural app, he said, is to increase visibility in order to increase attendance and engagement with the arts, both among local patrons and visitors to Portland.

Mateosian said he was optimistic the arts would rebound as the pandemic emerges. In that case, the app will continue to be useful in rebuilding attendance and rebuilding the arts economy, he said.

Screenshot / Design by Diamond Duryea / Courtesy / Creative Portland

Creative Portland is supporting a public art campaign that includes outdoor murals and “masked” graphics such as this superhero.

Struggling in the moment

The Portland Museum of Art is “struggling to understand where we stand right now,” museum director of communications Graeme Kennedy said.

The museum reopened in mid-June and was one of the first cultural organizations in the region to do so, he said. All along, he added, the museum has considered how to navigate the moment. The museum has long had a digital presence.

“This crisis has made us think about it even more,” he said.

This included putting exhibits and educational materials online in a robust way that would engage consumers, he explained.

“It means a lot of content production for us,” including online cultural activities and marketing material, he said. One example is the development of a web page called “Dream Action Factory” that explores incarceration during COVID-19 and beyond.

The SPACE Gallery in downtown Portland has also turned to virtual offerings, said the organization’s executive director Kelsey Halliday Johnson. After canceling more than 50 events, it has since offered around 25 virtual activities, including film screenings and artist talks.

“We pivoted to make sure we continue to make Congress Street the heart of the Arts District,” Johnson said. “We made our building into a series of public art projects.

Portland Ovations is currently operating on a budget that is 35% of its normal budget, said the organization’s executive director, Aimee Petrin. The organization’s lease was about to be renewed, so it left its offices entirely, with staff working from home. Operating in the digital sphere, it offers a number of parallel programs, works with national and international artists in a digital format, and seeks ways to integrate digital arts into homes and schools.


The State Theater closed in March and remains closed, said its general manager, Lauren Wayne. All part-time staff and half of the full-time staff were made redundant. Entrepreneurs such as food vendors and cleaners have also been affected.

“It has been devastating for all local venues here and for the music industry in general,” Wayne said of the pandemic.

Owned by the same group, the Port City Music Hall, a performance space in downtown Portland closed permanently in July.

“It was pretty tough,” said Wayne.

She added, “When you think about paying rent for a dark room for a year, it’s a black and white decision.”

The State Theater has seen its rent deferred until it can reopen, she said.

““ It’s extremely useful, but it will take us years to get out of it, ”she continued.“ It doesn’t make sense to reopen with limited capacity. ”The theater’s business model is built on selling 1,000 to 1,900 tickets at an average price of $ 35. He is unable to make the numbers work with 50 or even 500 attendees, she said.

“The whole tourism industry is also closed,” she added.

It could take a year or more before the tour can resume, she said.

“Everything is pretty unknown to our industry,” she said.

The theater broadcast acts live, which is a way to keep artists working but does not generate income for the theater, she said.

“It was really fun and heartbreaking too,” she said.

Recently, concert hall owners and operators organized the Maine Venue Alliance to present a unified voice.

“It was a last-ditch effort to try and fundraise for the really struggling little sites that aren’t performing well,” Wayne said.

The alliance has launched a fundraising campaign with a goal of $ 250,000 to help some places struggling to keep the doors open. The campaign has raised $ 27,000 so far. The alliance will switch to soliciting corporate donations, said co-founder Scott Mohler.

“One of the greatest services we can do is let the public know that there are people behind these companies,” Mohler added.

Jeff Shaw, executive director of the Maine Academy for Modern Music, said the educational institution had done well in switching to distance learning, an option the academy had long been considering anyway.

“Most of our students were able to do it,” he said. The academy also ran small-scale in-person summer camps, using plexiglass screens and keeping windows open. Now it offers a mix of online and in-person programming and is retraining its staff to operate in the hybrid environment. But the academy has lost its events and sponsorships.

“We adapt and try to be upbeat and creative” and develop workarounds, Shaw said.

“Businesses are struggling and the arts and culture community and organizations are no exception,” said Quincy Hentzel, CEO of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce. “We do everything we can to work with the creative organizations in Portland who have so many and in some cases endless needs. Or the mission now is to pave the way for recovery.

Hentzel continued, “The arts are an economic engine within our Portland economic engine. You are an essential part of our workforce and our economy. This includes the trickle-down effect when there is a show in town and consumers also pay for parking lots, restaurant meals, hotels, and perhaps to attend another show or museum while they are. in the city.

Then there is the larger effect.

“Portland’s vibrant arts and cultural life draws people to live and work in Maine,” Hentzel said. “We have this cultural life and we have to make sure it stays active.”

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