Grants could aid plans for Freeport arts center

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FREEPORT — The town is lending a hand while an organization that still awaits official nonprofit status seeks funding for something – possibly a building – to serve Freeport’s arts community.

The Freeport Arts and Cultural Alliance hopes to collect information from the public this year as the organization tries to find out the best way to serve artists in town.

Elizabeth Guffey, managing and artistic director for the community theater group Freeport Players and a spokeswoman for the alliance, said the first aim is to come up with a “cultural plan” for the town.

“We found out that the Maine Arts Commission has a (Creative Communities = Economic Development) grant,” Guffey said. “The first phase funds plans to devise a comprehensive cultural plan. We scrambled to put together an application. So the town graciously applied for a $10,000 grant because our 501(c)3 is not in yet.”

The IRS awards the nonprofit status.

The Town Council also put $10,000 in the tax increment financing budget, earmarked for Destination Freeport, a pool of money that funds projects to boost the town as a destination and could provide matching funds to the Creative Communities grant.

The council will make a final decision on the town’s capital, TIF and operating budgets on June 7.

“If we get the Creative Communities grant, that $10,000 in TIF money would be for a matching grant,” Guffey said. “We think our chances are pretty good at getting this grant.”

The Freeport Arts and Cultural Alliance has been trying for a year to ascertain public opinion on the need for a cultural plan. Last May, the alliance sent questionnaires to a small sample of residents, but the results were inconclusive.

One question was: “Do you think an Arts and Cultural Center would be a positive development for Freeport?” Six respondents said yes, three no. As to where a Freeport arts and cultural center should be created, one respondent said close to schools, one said close to downtown and foot traffic, one said the edge of town (not downtown), and one responded downtown, but not necessarily Main Street.

As for existing space, the Freeport Players uses the Freeport Performing Arts Center for most of its productions. The Greater Freeport Community Chorus, the Art Guild of Freeport and Freeport Family Performing Arts are other arts organizations without homes.

“It should be said that as important as established groups like those are to the process of assessing the needs and aspirations of the arts and culture sector, there are a large number of artists who are not allied with any particular group,” Guffey said. “They may also be in need of space to create, gather, collaborate, learn and perform. In addition, there are those engaged in the broader cultural picture: history, heritage, language, etc.”

Ed Bradley, former Town Council chairman and a member of the Freeport Economic Development Corp., said that creative arts and cultural activities are part of FEDC’s “Vision 2025,” which last year studied priorities for the town 10 years out.

“Vision 2025 commissioned a report on opportunities for the town to enhance its economic standing,” Bradley said, “and creative arts is part of that vision. A lot of us feel it’s time to decide what role arts and culture play in this town. There are lots of artists here.”

The Freeport Arts and Cultural Alliance steering committee meets monthly at various locations, and the next meeting is scheduled for May 5, at 7 p.m., probably at the Town Hall.

“These meetings are open to anyone who wants to roll up their sleeves and get involved in the work we are doing,” Guffey said. “Because the location is subject to change, I recommend anyone who wants to get involved send me an email at kiosk@FreeportArtsAndCulture.org. I’ll add them to the list of people I send meeting reminders to.”

Guffey said there is not yet a hierarchy in the alliance, for good reason.

“Especially early on,” she said, “we’re still trying to draw in people.”

She said the group’s “virtual kiosk” is an online presence, including a Facebook page, Twitter feed and email alerts. The website will be relaunched on Thursday, April 28, at FreeportArtsAndCulture.org.

Guffey said the aim now is not specific enough to consider an actual building as a goal.

“It could say that, it could say any number of things,” she said. “After we get the CCED grant, we’ll meet with our planners. We’ll do surveys and planning that could take a year or more. About this time next year, we could have a plan ready to look at.”

Guffey said she is unsure what type of funding – private or public – the alliance will seek, should a building be the goal.

“It depends on what the thing is,” she said. “We can already say that the steering committee was formed out of the effort to build a brick-and-mortar cultural center. Even while this plan is going on, we’re going to continue to talk about that.”

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