Portland Maine’s ‘Art at Work’ project with local police

Sometimes there are community projects that are so exciting that everyone should spread the word are happening. The Art At Work project in Portland, Maine stands at the top of that list. Art is a part of our soul, it heals, brings people together and makes us human. It’s transformative powers are just beginning to be understood.

When Marty Pottenger came to Portland, Maine seven years ago after living in New York City she felt compelled to get involved with her community. With fresh insights she took on challenges most people would shy away from and perceived she could inspire like-minded citizens to help their city through art.

Since then, her arts nonprofit Terra Motto Inc.has partnered with the City of Portland to pilot Art At Work.

“The idea that’s become “Art At Work” came to me while I was thinking about the scale of challenges we are facing in the world and how innovative, sustainable solutions would very likely be local. The idea was to put creativity to work improving a city’s municipal government by tackling non-arts community problems by designing and implementing arts projects,” said Pottenger. “The basic goal was that art could help cities save money, deepen residents awareness and expectations of local government, and increase the sort of pride among neighborhoods and residents that leads to robust civic engagement.”

Pottenger’s projects have helped bring the Portland community together more as she worked with local police, community leaders, poets, artists and concerned citizens building bridges with art.

As Pottenger put wrote, “Since 2007, police officers have turned around historic low morale by partnering with local poets and writing over 100 poems about their work. Public Service construction workers have become more welcoming by sharing stories about their own heritages and carving prints that hang in their workplaces. Officers and poets came together twice for community-wide civic dialogues about the role of the police in Portland, dialogues that began with a poetry readings. The workers who take your money at the parking garage, City Hall treasury, and library desk have written stories, essays, and poems about themselves and their work which were turned into posters that hang next to the elevators, counters and hallways where they work. It’s not been very easy, but it has been hugely rewarding.”

“Two years ago, the police found themselves in over 15 rock & bottle-throwing confrontations with teenagers angry about the shooting death of an armed man by police officers. The police chief called to ask if I would write and direct a play with officers to perform for high school students. So I asked him to make sure that I got to work with the department’s toughest officers. After multiple ride-alongs, interviews, workshops and rehearsals, the performance – Radio Calls – was performed by five officers at all 3 Portland high schools. It had a transformative impact on the relationship between the officers and the students, particularly immigrant and refugee students, who are a significant part of our community.”

The culmination of these endeavors has had a positive effect nationally, inspiring similar projects in Austin, Minneapolis, Holyoke and Chicago. And it all started in Portland, Maine.

“It’s been our artists, city, police, public works, parking garage staff, and neighborhoods who have made it a success,” said Pottenger. “I’m so proud of my community.”

Now this seasoned community organizer is trying to raise funds for two more groundbreaking community projects. They are All The Way Home Veterans Story Exchange and Hearts, Minds and Homes.

All The Way Home Veterans Story Exchange:
Pottenger is working with the Portland Veterans Center and the Maine Military and Community Network to help veterans. Terra Moto received an NEA grant to get the veterans project underway but another $50,000 is needed to make the match and cover the actual costs. The project intends to include story exchanges in Lewiston/Auburn, and at Togus VA in Augusta, as well as in Cumberland County.

Hearts, Minds & Homes:
This project is a two year community performance project focusing on gentrification and homelessness. It’s just getting off the ground with this Indiegogo crowdsourcing campaign.

The Indiegogo campaign’s goal is to raise $25,000 in 25 days to support both these projects, as well as the work in general.

Please visit Art At Work’s campaign to contribute and find out more.

Here’s a list of some of the artists who worked on the projects. Each of them has offered to host a studio visit for $1,000 contributors.

Martin Steingesser, poet http://www.martinsteingesser.com/

Patrick Corrigan, visual artist http://thirtysevena.com/tagged/Patrick-Corrigan

Gibson Faye-LeBlanc, poet http://gibsonfayleblanc.com/

Betsy Sholl, poet http://www.betsysholl.com/

Marty Pottenger, multidisciplinary, theater http://www.martypottenger.com

Dave Wade, photographer http://www.davewadephoto.com/

Jan Piribeck, visual artist https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WqAcDaNxCzY

Tim Clorius, visual artist http://timclorius.com/

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