SKOWHEGAN — A group of new faces in Somerset County wants to make sure that the arts are an integral part of the culture of the region and will help guide future tourism efforts and boost economic and community development throughout the area.

The Somerset Cultural Planning Committee, a collaboration of the Wesserunsett Arts Council and Main Street Skowhegan, is initiating a yearlong effort to craft a cultural plan that promises to involve all sectors of the community, including local government, businesses, nonprofits and individuals.

The planning process will identify all of Somerset County’s cultural assets, such as visual, performing, craft, literary and broadcast arts. The focus also will include arts facilities, historical locations, arts and cultural organizations, working artists and craftspeople, and recreational and agricultural resources to determine how best to use those assets to the county’s advantage as well as how best to promote them, according to committee chairman Jon Kimbell.

The committee hired Saskia Reinholt, of Reinholt Consulting, to lead the planning process. Reinholt specializes in comprehensive cultural planning and has worked on projects including an arts and heritage plan for the High Peaks Creative Council in Franklin County and most recently a cultural blueprint for Waterville Creates! and Waterville Main Street.

“Cultural planning is an essential part of regeneration strategies for communities,” Reinholt said. “Many communities suffer from economic decline and shrinking populations. Incorporating cultural planning into a community’s toolkit helps revitalize downtowns and regions.”

Saskia Reinholt is an oil painter, watercolor artist and stained glass artist; and she owns an art gallery in Kingfield. She studied art at the University of Maine, Montana State University and Studio Giambo in Florence, Italy.

The county planning committee’s “vision of a thriving community is one that highly values the arts,” Kimbell said. “Our guiding principle is that the community is the expert, and we will engage the community throughout the planning process.”

Two recent grants totaling $15,500 will aid the committee in creating a cultural plan. The grants include $10,000 from the Maine Arts Commission‘s Creative Communities Economic Development program and $5,500 from the Maine Community Foundation.

Since both of the grants require a dollar-for-dollar match, committee members will hold several fundraisers in the months to come to meet that requirement.

The committee plans to kick off the planning process Saturday with the Somerset Family Arts Festival from noon to 4 p.m. at Bigelow Brewing Co. in Skowhegan.

The event is sponsored by Skowhegan Savings Bank and will include food tastings, an art fair, demonstrations, live music, dancing and children’s art activities. The event will feature more than a dozen local painters, sculptors and fiber artists who will give demonstrations. Children’s writer and illustrator Russ Cox and Hazel Mitchell will conduct book readings and signings.

A selection of local farm-to-table fare will include doughnuts, cider, apples, cheese and bread baked on site in Bigelow’s outdoor wood-fired oven.

Tickets cost $20 for adults 21 and over and include four craft beer sampler vouchers. There is no charge for children and adults under 21.

There also will be a public launch of the cultural planning project from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the Prescott Building, at Good Will-Hinckley. The launch meeting will include a wine tasting.

There also will be a community meeting from noon to 1 p.m. Oct. 27 at the Lakewood Golf Course clubhouse on U.S. Route 201 in Madison Lunch will be provided.

Another community engagement meeting is scheduled for 9 to 10 a.m. Nov. 3 at Northern Outdoors in The Forks. A continental breakfast will be served.

Community members’ input is essential as the committee explores the creativity and culture in Somerset County and develops a plan that will guide cultural initiatives over the next five to 10 years, Kimbell said.

When the plan is complete, it is intended to guide tourism development, including the creation of recreational, food and historical tours around Somerset County. The plan will highlight development of new events and festivals such as performing and visual arts, music and food events, showcasing recreational assets such as the Kennebec River Gorge in Skowhegan, which has long been regarded as the potential future home of a whitewater recreation area.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow