Freeport alliance develops plan for cultural revolution

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FREEPORT — In an effort to enhance and further develop art and cultural opportunities and the creative economy, the Arts and Culture Alliance has teamed up with the town and Reinholt Consulting to draft its first Cultural Plan.

A final draft of the plan will be presented Feb. 7 at 6:30 p.m. at the Freeport Community Center. 

The alliance, which formed in June 2015, is dedicated to “assessing the needs and aspirations of the local arts and cultural community and helping it reach its full potential.”

ACAF Board President Jane Bradley said the alliance originally explored the idea of creating an arts and culture center in town. However, with insight and guidance from the Maine Arts Commission, the group decided to first craft a cultural plan to address what the community needs and wants from the town’s creative resources. 

“It’s incredible how much talent and wonderful creativity there is in this community,” Bradley said. “And the cultural assets Freeport has are really extensive.”

Among ACAF’s l0ng list of community partners are the Greater Freeport Community Chorus, Freeport Players, Greater Freeport Chamber of Commerce, Freeport Economic Development Corporation, Maryellen And Sam In Support Of The Arts, Freeport USA, the Open Stage Coffee House, RSU5 drama teachers, and Freeport Community Programs.

Reinholt Consulting began the plan’s five-phase process in 2016 after being hired for $20,000 – half of which was fundraised by the alliance, the other half matched by the town.  

The process consisted of three surveys – tailored to the general public, cultural organizations and businesses, and local artists and performers – and seven public meetings in which Reinholt Consulting gathered community input.

According to the alliance’s website, their goal was to collect 150 completed surveys, but they ended up receiving over 300. 

The Public Opinion Survey was designed to understand what area residents think about the value, relevance and access to arts and cultural resources. The Artist and Performer Survey aimed to learn about the intricacies, needs, and perspectives of Freeport’s creative community. Finally, the Cultural Organization and Creative Business Survey helped assess the challenges, needs, and priorities of creative organizations and businesses.

Saskia Reinholt said the firm has worked on similar plans in Lewiston and Auburn, Waterville, Maine High Peaks Region, Somerset County, and the Tri-County Region of Southern Aroostook, Northern Penobscot, and Northern Washington Counties.

“Freeport has been incredibly responsive,” Reinholt said. “We’ve seen up to 50 or 60 people at each meeting, which has been outstanding. In the other communities we’ve worked with, we typically see meetings of 10 (to) 30 people.”

Reinholt doesn’t anticipate the Feb. 7 meeting resulting in any substantial changes made to the plan’s final draft, but said if someone has a “fantastic idea for a strategy,” it would be incorporated. 

As long as no major changes are made, Reinholt said she expects the plan to be ready for public release by mid-February. The community will then be invited to “tackle action items in the Freeport Cultural Plan that fit with their interests and missions.”

According to its website, the alliance feels many of the action items “will require town-wide support and collaboration, and many will be achievable by small groups with a passion for making arts and culture a significant part of Freeport’s identity.”

“I think this community has so much talent,” Bradley said. “When you step back and think about what can be, in addition to what already is … (this plan) will be very, very beneficial for everybody.”

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

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