Published Date Written by David CarkhuffForget flash and spectacle, theatrics and fireworks, a city initiative to reconnect neighborhoods in Portland is going back to basics. Look for storytelling and creative, accessible artwork in a bid to bring neighbors together.
This Saturday and next, the Meeting Place project pairs up artists with the Libbytown, West End, Bayside and East Bayside areas of Portland for back-to-back weekends of activities.
“All of these neighborhoods actually have tremendous diversity in their residents, but there’s not a networked neighborhood there yet,” said Marty Pottenger, director of the Art At Work initiative, a national effort to incorporate arts into the operation of municipal government.
The goal of the Meeting Place project is to create networks of people, even those from vastly different backgrounds.
“The experiment or adventure that this has been for the last year is an arts-based neighborhood development project,” Pottenger explained.
Every neighborhood was host to monthly workshops with artists. Out of that, each of the artists became the artist of that particular neighborhood.
This Saturday, the project starts with Libbytown, which involves poetry.
“Art At Work collected lots of stories with the help of Maine Historical Society and other poets,” Pottenger said.
The condensed poems will appear on 102 banners for installation on parking lot light posts. Four or five large banners will feature poems as well. The Libbytown installment will be spearheaded by Betsy Sholl, who in 2006 was chosen to be the Poet Laureate of Maine, a five-year position named by the governor.
Maine Historical Society will showcase photographs from the past, while shared stories will emphasize a vibrancy belied by the neighborhood’s disruption and displacement from Interstate 295 construction.
Pottenger noted, “The big issue for Libbytown is everybody is like, ‘Where’s Libbytown?’ Since I-295 came through in the last ’60s, it really broke Libbytown, the physical self and the spirit, and yet we had about 100 people tell us stories from the old days, so that’s where we got a lot of the poems. Their project is poetry, and their theme is, ‘Here’s Libbytown.’”
Then, in the afternoon on Saturday, a look at the West End will hinge on photography. Tonee Harbert, a West End resident, is heading up this theme. Harbert’s work is included in the permanent collections of the Portland Museum of Art and The Danforth Museum of Art. His work has been published in magazines such as National Geographic Traveler, American Photo, Travel and Leisure, Yankee, Metropolitan Home, Down East, Country Inns and Art New England.
“About 25 residents have taken a set of three photos each and they will be exhibited at the Maine Irish Heritage Center, and some of them will be telling the stories,” Pottenger said.
A concert of neighborhood choirs and choruses and a walking tour are among the other activities.
The following Saturday, Sept. 29, the focus shifts to Bayside.
“Artist Daniel Minter is creating art cards that will be distributed with 50 different stories. People can actually pick up a card and learn the neighborhood by the stories,” Pottenger said.
Part of Kennebec Street between Elm and Preble streets will be closed for “an action creative placemaking,” when people will move tables and chairs to form a cafe, theater or other setting. Think of a version of a charette, a design-based exercise, but in actual scale to the street, she said.
The theme is “The Real Bayside,” which seeks to dispel stereotypes.
Later that day, participants will gravitate to East Bayside, where artist Kelly Rioux helped organize fence murals with recycled materials.
“The idea was to take an existing structure, like an existing neighborhood, there’s a metaphor of, Here’s something that doesn’t look that special that’s serving a purpose,” Pottenger said.
An entrepreneurial uptick has transformed the neighborhood, but connections and interactions among different groups have been limited, she said. Reflecting these two trends, social networking group Greendrinks is heading up a brewery tour, while on the cultural side, a Kennedy Park soccer game between elders and youth is likely to attract a crowd, Pottenger said. Descendants of Charles Frederick Eastman, an African-American entrepreneur and anti-slavery activist, including June McKenzie, a revered representative of the NAACP Portland Branch, also plan to tell family stories at Peppermint Park. The Maine Muslim Community Center, meanwhile, plans an hourlong Somali poetry reading, translating the works from Arabic and Somali to English.
“For Somalian culture, that has been one of the cores of the culture, poetry,” Pottenger said. “Most people don’t know that. It’s kind of a surprising thing to find out. Whereas here, poets are often marginalized, there they’re actually very revered and a part of it, and have been for centuries.”
A $100,000 Our Town grant from the National Endowment for the Arts paid for the Meeting Place.
Pottenger said the common thread of artwork ties together all four neighborhood outreach efforts. It’s an approach that taps into a person’s lifelong desire to create.
“What I have discovered from working in the arts for most of my life, there is this ability of everyone to make art,” Pottenger said.
For more information about the project or the events, visit http://www.artatworkproject.us/portland_index.php.
Saturday, Sept. 22
• 9 a.m. to noon, Libbytown, Tony’s Donuts Kickoff — Come explore Libbytown with a Portland Trails walk along the Fore River, Inside Amtrak tour, Skateboard Jam, Bicycle ride and lots of Here’s Libbytown Poetry Banners. Start the day with a Meeting Place Molasses Donut and cup of Libbytown stories.
• 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., West End, Maine Irish Heritage Center — Come explore the neighborhood through ‘West End Snapshots’ photographs by West Enders, ‘West End Sings’ a concert of neighborhood choirs and choruses and Mike’s Walking Tour. Have a slice of Bonobo’s Meeting Place WENA pizza. In partnership with the West End Neighborhood Association.
Saturday, Sept. 29
• 8:30 a.m. to noon, Bayside, Kenebec Street between Preble and Elm — Explore the real Bayside, stories, secret spots, history, and play a new game — “Creative Placemaking in Action: Imagining a new public space,” invented by the Bayside Neighborhood Association. Enjoy 50 Art Cards, Bayside images carved by Daniel Minter and stories from Whole Foods, Pearl Place, Dyer’s Variety, City Hall, Planet Dog, Bayside Bowl, Flea For All, Portland High, Miss Portland Diner and YMCA. It’s all happening at the new “Phoenix Square,” Kennebec St. between Preble and Elm St.
• 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., East Bayside, Peppermint Park & Fox Field — Kickoff at Peppermint Park. Good Fences for Good Neighbors murals, McKenzie Family Story Hour, Drumming, GreenDrinks Brewery Tour, Mayo St. Arts, Kennedy Park Community Soccer, Maine Jewish Museum, Sahara Club, Dominoes, Somali Poetry at the Maine Muslim Community Center, and a Meeting Place BBQ at Fox Field. In partnership with the East Bayside Neighborhood Organization.
(SOURCE: Art At Work)