Cultural plan may call for more arts downtown

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WESTBROOK — Just as community members come together every decade or so to lay out their vision for the future through an update to the city’s Comprehensive Plan, a similar effort is underway to map a cultural blueprint for the city.

“Much like land use planning serves as tool for municipalities and regional planning entities to help communities guide future development based on a community’s priorities and values, cultural planning serves as a tool for communities to develop and implement strategies to support a growing creative economy,” said Saskia Reinholt of Reinholt Consulting.

Reinholt, who has done cultural plans for Freeport, Lewiston/Auburn and Waterville and for Waldo and Aroostook counties, was contracted by the City Council last fall to create a plan for Westbrook. The work is funded through a grant from the Maine Arts Commission Creative Communities – Economic Development program.

Four sessions have been held to gather feedback from people about what they want to see in the plan, according to Abigail Cioffi, executive director of Discover Downtown Westbrook, which is helping Reinholt with the project.

“There was a great cross-section of the public that attended the launch meeting and two community conversations, plus we were able to go to the high school and talk with a group of students about their perspective on arts and culture in Westbrook, which was incredibly valuable,” Cioffi said.

Community members’ ideas included increasing cultural and recreational offerings along the Presumpscot River, additional public art downtown and the possibility of art walks or history walks.

In the next few weeks, surveys will be made available online and in print asking artists, performers and cultural organizations about their challenges and needs. A survey will also be available for the public.

“All the planned goals come from the data we collect. We let them emerge from the data,” Reinholt said.

The plan, Reinholt said, typically takes 12 to 18 months to complete.

“When I think of culture, it is not only art, but in some communities recreation is strong and a part of their culture. In Westbrook, there is a large population of people from other countries, so there is a lot of ethnic cultures that help to make up the community,” Reinholt said.

A public presentation with some initial recommendations could be completed by late summer or early fall.

A completed cultural plan is necessary for the second round of Maine Arts Commission grant funding, which could award up to $75,000 over a three-year period for the plan to be put into place.

Michael Kelley can be reached at 780-9106 or mkelley@keepmecurrent.com or on Twitter @mkelleynews.

Saskia Reinholt has created a word cloud of topics brought up at several sessions held earlier this year to hear what the public wants to see in the cultural plan she is creating on behalf of the city.

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