AUGUSTA COMPREHENSIVE PLAN COMMITTEE
Fourth Meeting – Arts and culture in the community
Tuesday, February 26, 2019 at 6pm
Community Meeting Room at Lithgow Library
Called to order at 6:01pm.
In attendance: Heather Pouliot, Kevin Lind, Lori Larochelle, Kim Silsby, Brad Sawyer, Bob Corey, Duane Scott, Melanie Baillageron, Karen Foster, Justin Frank, Matt Nazar, Karen Wilcox, Dan Cummings, Robin Miller, Kim Phinney, Clark Phinney, Michael Hall, Phyllis VonHerrlich, Stan Koski, Marci Alexander, David Greenham, Jason Morgan, Teresa Beaudoin, Linda Nichols, Devon Pcolar, Jacqueline LaRochelle, Jennifer Fortin, Mark O’Brien, Linda Conti, Roberta Record, Marie Spaulding, and Garbor Corthy, and (others not identified or signed in).
Welcome remarks and committee introductions.
Members of the public are welcome to share their ideas regarding the future of the any aspect of the city as it relates to arts and culture in our community.
Overview of the 2007 comprehensive plan as it relates to arts and culture by Matt Nazar. The current plan talks about arts and culture in various aspects:
- Increasing arts and culture in the community;
- Addressing the need for venues for artists and audiences, especially in the downtown;
- Expand Lithgow (accomplished);
- Use City Council meetings to promote events (happening and ongoing);
- Use the city website as a central location for sharing information about events and a community calendar; and
- Collaborating and showcasing our current museums (state museum, Old Fort Western, UMA gallery).
Committee discussion on arts and culture in Augusta, and other related items:
- Lori: new pop-up idea downtown is encouraging; we need to prioritize the arts; “Art-gusta.”
- Bob: looking forward to hearing new ideas.
- Karen: hardest part will be on implementation.
- Kevin: comp plan can be used to help showcase what Augusta has happening and to offer.
- Duane: intergenerational events is important.
- Justin: arts and culture will be key to making Augusta more attractive.
Public opportunity to identify concerns/suggestions that they want addressed within the comprehensive plan:
- Linda Conti, Ward 1 City Councilor: the city has many big old buildings, many of which have unknown future uses; we need to figure out what to do with these buildings; however, it must be sensitive and compatible to the neighborhoods they are located in; Elim Church and some other churches are limited in their reuse, but arts and culture venues could be an appropriate use.
- Michael Hall, Executive Director of the ADA: restoring the Colonial Theater must be a top priority; this development will be the catalyst for bringing more arts and culture to the city; we also need permanent cement pedestals to accommodate revolving art installations at our parks; we should look to have more art exhibits at certain parks around the city. City should host a film festival; base it on Maine-native Stephen King; continue to support movies in the park.
- Marci Alexander, At-large City Councilor, resident of ward 3: arts and culture will help make Augusta more attractive for our youth to want to come back and live in the community; we need cool and attractive art; we are fortunate to have Chizzle Wizzle, but we need more; we need to create opportunities; create a cultural arts district in the city; this will bring money to the city, it will attract millenials; the state does not have a performing arts center; Augusta should be home to one; let’s partner with the state to make it happen; council should pass a proclamation to support local creative economy; we need to remarket ourselves as an arts capital. We need to generate an inventory of current performing arts space.
- Devon Pcolar, grew up and moved back to Augusta: need to ensure safety at parks and local events; sometimes the participants are not appropriate for kids; city should consider a gardening club to help bring visibility and improvements to sections of the community; should showcase our franco-american heritage more; expand on La Festival de la Bastille; maybe a cultural food event; artists could paint fire hydrants; need an outdoor music venue.
- Dan Cummings, Sewall Street: need more outdoor concerts; more places like Vaughn Woods; support the Colonial Theater; Elim Church, or somewhere else, for an art studio; need collective space; need to raise more awareness of events happening; many times just don’t know about them; coordinate with UMA and their events; should consider expanding on the high school basketball tournaments; need a fun space like the old NorthPark (dinner and movie, arcade, sports bar, and restaurant space).
- Jason Morgan, teacher and head of the Cony Arts Department: community needs to be better about supporting students; more murals in public spaces; the schools struggle with opportunities to offer more to students, especially on the newer advancements like digital photography and other technologies on art. Also, incorporate the New Mainers, through food and culture and dance; Need to do more regarding communication and helping connect the dots for opportunities in the arts; artist rapid response team through the Harlow.
- Roberta Record, westside resident: support the nature in the community, like the Botanical Gardens in Boothbay.
- Marie Spaulding, resident and artist: need more opportunities for artists; coop space; gallery space; more festivals; painted benches in the community; a sidewalk festival; provide commissions for businesses to support local art.
- Kim Phinney, owner of Lilac Catering: many opportunities to appreciate our heritage through foods; there are lots of things happening with arts, but the challenge is that people aren’t aware; need better communication; social media can help.
- Clark Phinney, owner of Lilac Catering: city lacks access points for performances, recital space; need scalable spaces; Capital City Improv can’t perform in Augusta because of this; it is not for a lack of people wanting to do more with arts and culture, it is just the lack of access to do it.
- Jackie LaRochelle, Maine Arts Commission: the city does not have the appropriate space needed to support artists; Maine Craft Association.
- Garbor Corthy, resident: moved to Augusta from away; we need to look at Augusta from the lens of someone from away and see their perspective; it is not as appealing as many of us think; we need to do more to clean up properties in the city or fine them for their derelict property; right now doesn’t believe artists would want to bring their art here.
- David Greenham, teacher at UMA and at Holocaust Center: the comp plan should be bold in its vision for the city over the next 10 years; gave the example of Paducah, Kentucky and their bold vision as a community on the river with many buildings in disrepair; they put forward a bold plan of creative people and are now known as a place to bring creative minds; we won’t get the energy to make things happen if we don’t put forward a big, bold vision.
- Theresa Beaudoin, principal at Farrington and former music teacher: we need downtown to be the hub and the place to be for arts and culture. It could have the “feel” that you want for an arts district; need to more of the children’s theater, gaslight, and others; the people who perform would love to do it in Augusta if they could.
- Unknown Name, resident: the city needs to focus on the backside of the downtown and those buildings should be more welcoming and embracing to the river; we used to have the whatever race; need to bring focus back to the river.
Additional committee comments:
- We need a better inventory of the arts and culture in Augusta.
- Need to improve the communication.
- Do we know if the auditorium in the Cony Flatiron is available for use?
- Heritage Center at Mill Park.
- Parking can be a major issue for some venues.
- How can the city leverage funds to make all of this happen?
- Better utilize social media.
- Some communities reused an old school building for art space.
- Should we create a radius for an arts district?
What are the benefits?
- Need to work on the marketing and branding of Augusta for arts and culture.
Other committee matters:
- There were none.
Next meeting is scheduled for Monday, March 4, 2019 at 6pm at the Old Fort Western Learning Gallery at City Center. The focus of discussion will be on the downtown.
ADDENDUM TO MINUTES (ADDITIONAL COMMENTS SENT VIA EMAIL FOR THE COMMITTEE TO CONSIDER):
- Jon Silverman, member of the comp plan committee: I grew up in the Boston area, where I studied music with members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and visited local museums to see the originals of artworks presented in art history books. Augusta does not have that same potential, yet there is a frustrated hunger for arts here, as illustrated, for example, by the success of UMA’s Concerts at Jewett Hall series. There should be ways to encourage more arts to be imported into Augusta, and to better showcase local arts. The concerts and Slates Restaurant in Hallowell, or Sheepscott General in Whitefield, are good examples of arts delivered in a Maine vernacular. Regrettably, I am uncertain how to do this, other than to say refurbishing the Colonial Theater would establish a venue. We want to attract new residents. Enhancing the arts would improve Augusta’s image, and make it feel (forgive me!) like less of a backwater. We’re weak here. We do not have Colby College’s museums, or Waterville’s Railroad Square Cinema, or Brunswick’s Morningstar. It’s bad for us to be seen as lacking in this regard. Augusta is great for offering city services so near the woods, but creating a legitimate, inclusive air of culture and learning could only help.
- Tobias Parkhurst, resident, business owner, building owner: my feedback is probably obvious but I didn’t want my absence to be taken as apathy. I can honestly say that I think the Colonial Theater will be the biggest economic driver for the heart of our city and that its importance cannot be understated. Specifically – the city is going to have to come to the front on parking downtown. As development continues we aren’t going to have the luxury of ignoring it for much longer. I think amount of parking and also a clear plan will be critical. Money for a parking study? One way I think the city could both support the Colonial and attack the parking issue is working on some kind of parking structure adjacent the Colonial. We need ada bathrooms and an elevator and an addition will be necessary. No reason this structure shouldn’t also contribute to solving our impending parking issue. Just an idea.
- Paul Lessard, former resident: the City needs to embrace more of tourism economy because it is no longer a mill town. The best way to do it is with the Maine Legislature by embracing the coming 200th Anniversary of Statehood as a destination for tourists and continuing to promote itself to the future generations by combining with the Downtown Augusta organization as well as using the new Historic Districts as the basis for promotion. Here is what the do in Annapolis, Maryland https://visitannapolis.org/. Augusta has the history of being the State Capital since the State House was opened in 1832. This happened simultaneously with the building of the Kennebec Arsenal. Presidents have visited the Blaine House, a structure once owned and the residence of James Blaine, a candidate for the Presidency himself against Grover Cleveland. The history was originally established in 1754 with the erecting of Fort Western during the French and Indian War. It remains now as a museum and it is the oldest wooden fort in the country. The old City Hall was the first place the “The Stars and Stripes Forever” was played. The river could become alive with boats again and maybe even have a low profile “bateau mouche” style boat travel between Augusta and Boothbay Harbor to attract a different group of tourists to the Downtown. Then there is what I wrote about, the State needs top re-acquire the the Main Building at the Kennebec Arsenal and turn the building that is on the National Register of Historic Buildings into the Maine Hall of Fame Museum. It served as the headquarters during the Aroostook War, which decided the Northern U.S. boundary with Canada. The General who commanded those forces even ran for President as a Whig. There is so much potential in historic tourism because Augusta has what no other City in Maine has. Other museums are ready to open, like the First Amendment Museum in the former home of Guy Gannet. The City could add places to visit by erecting a bust along the Downton riverfront for each Maine Governor. The City could move the Water District offices elsewhere and turn that building into a tourism center which would require the MDOT to erect directional signs to the site from all the surrounding highways. This would bring tourists into the downtown and they would get out of their cars. The old Hannaford building could become a mini-mall. You might even consider re-constructing the original Pilgrim’s Trading Post where the church is behind City Hall. Please have a dialogue about Augusta as a tourist destination because of its historic significance. It has so much potential.
- Robin Miller, resident: 1) Other towns – Lewiston, Waterville, Brunswick, even Gardiner to some extent (plus northern towns that I know little about) are making great strides with renovating old mill spaces into creative centers. There was a piece on Channel 6 this AM about the old Hathaway Mill in Waterville that has morphed into a multi-use creative center. That is HUGE. And now that owner is so pleased that he has bought and is expanding into neighboring mills. Ditto (Channel 6) the old mill in Brunswick. That is occupied by many artists having studio space there but still includes the upscale apartments, offices, restaurants and shops. I’ve been to one in Lewiston on the canal that is excellent. Where population is small, mixed use is key to bring in buyers/viewers/customers for the arts. Most artists cannot afford hefty loft or studio prices. But their proximity heightens the creative ambiance for other business and eateries. It is a symbiotic relationship. I don’t know if Augusta has any old buildings like that left. But downtown could possible re reconfigured to create the effect. I suggest visitations to other towns’ creative centers to feel the vibe. 2) Artists MUST HAVE an audience, at least half of whom are paying customers.”Tire kickers” have that right but they don’t help pay the rent. Street shows or art walks are great fun but not necessarily for artists or performers because every time you have to haul your art or instruments to a spot, set up, anchor against the wind or rain, artwork etc gets weather-beaten and shop worn. If customers could be guaranteed, it would/could be worth it. But as it is now, there is mucho work attached to that without mucho return. However, the inherent symbiosis could be explored for better results for all. 3)DITTO DITTO DITTO more publicity. I thought I was the only one not hearing about things…chalked it up to not having electronic KJ. The old print weekend supplement USED TO guide us! Someone has to spearhead that effort. 4) Kennebec Corridor never did get off the ground, really…again, no one to honcho it. I discussed a similar idea with Deb over at the Harlow, having to do with organized groups of plein air arts opportunities (with other activities for families) and promoting that along with expanding awareness of Air B n B ops…opportunities all the way along the Corridor for this type of thing.