Arts Advocacy Starts at Home

Hot Off the Presses, Soapbox

South Portland is the BEST, and the arts and history are a huge part of that. How can we do even more?


The South Portland Arts and Historic Preservation Committee wants to hear from you!  Click here to take a quick, three-question survey.

In my last post, I talked about how where I grew up affected my career choice. Having unfettered access to a world-class museum—a place that welcomed and fulfilled me at every stage of my life—made me want to be a part of and give back to that professional community. (NB: My hometown, Cleveland, has more than just the one world-class museum; my post just happened to be about the incomparable Cleveland Museum of Art.)

The experience did more than just plant the seed of a career path for me, though. It broadened my world view, helped me begin to see artistic expression as part of a continuum, and introduced me to traditions and ideas that were foreign to my own experience. That opportunity to come face to face with history in the form of artifacts and original art gave weight and substance to lessons that, in books or a classroom, were only abstract in comparison.

Not every town can have a cultural institution on that scale, of course. The Cleveland Museum of Art was founded with industrial wealth out of proportion to anything we’ve ever seen in Maine. (Whatever the failings of the robber barons of the previous century, at least they understood the importance of libraries, parks, schools, and museums.) It’s also worth noting that the population of greater Cleveland is more than twice the population of the entire state of Maine.  Of course our cultural institutions are going to be more modest.


Portland Breakwater Lighthouse, better known as “Bug Light,” dates from 1855 and is one of South Portland’s four properties on the National Register of Historic Places.

But smaller doesn’t necessarily mean less important, particularly if you measure importance in terms of community impact. These days I have a new hometown: South Portland, Maine, where I have lived for more than thirteen years, and where my two girls were born and go to school. The South Portland Public Library, Willard Beach, South Portland Historical Society, Bug Light Park, the community center, the summer camps, the public schools—these things have been the backdrop for their childhoods, nurturing them and knitting us all into the community in powerful and permanent ways. For the rest of their lives, no matter where they end up, when they’re asked where they’re from, they’ll say, “South Portland, Maine. It was a wonderful place to grow up.”


Posing at Art in the Park with her award-winning bird-rabbit-robot collage.

The arts and history have been a huge part of that, from the historic lighthouses that are practically in our backyard to the student art shows—in the schools and in Art in the Park—that have given them the opportunity to see their own creative work celebrated and shared. It’s because I believe so sincerely in the importance of community arts and history that, a little more than a year ago, I joined the brand-new South Portland Arts and Historic Preservation Committee and soon volunteered to become its first chair.

Last week, local reporter Duke Harrington wrote a great story about what the AHPC (as we call ourselves) has been up to in the year since it was founded. The ink was barely dry on the committee’s ordinance before we found ourselves weighing in on zoning language and making presentations to the Planning Board. We’ve been active and responsive from the beginning, and we are proud of that, but we want to be thoughtful and strategic as well. That’s where  you come in—our friends and neighbors in South Portland.

Duke’s article ended by saying that the AHPC is inviting community input about what its priorities should be—now and in the future. It’s a simple, three-question survey that you can find on the committee’s page on the city website, or you can just click directly to the survey here.


The Liberty Ship Memorial in Bug Light Park pays tribute to the shipyard workers of World War II.

As you respond, think about what makes South Portland your hometown, the place you’re from. Think about why you love it, how you could love it even more, and how that intersects with things like our architectural landmarks, our school art programs, our public buildings and monuments, our community events, and more. The more feedback we get, the better we’ll be able to advocate for arts and historic preservation initiatives that reflect and support the community in the broadest and most meaningful ways.


We look forward to hearing from you!

Please note that the survey is only for residents of South Portland. If you don’t live in South Portland but still have something to say, please feel free to leave a comment on this blog post or contact me privately.
P.S. Follow the SoPo Arts and Historic Preservation Committee on Facebook to stay connected!

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