WATERVILLE — The chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts on Tuesday praised the work being done in the city to promote arts and culture and make it accessible to people of all ages and walks of life.

Jane Chu visited Railroad Square Cinema on Tuesday morning with U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, and Julie Richard, executive director of the Maine Arts Commission, to tour the theater and meet with those who are working to enhance and strengthen the vitality of the city and promote it as a major arts destination.

They heard presentations by Shannon Haines, executive director of the Maine Film Center and director of the Maine International Film Festival, and Nate Rudy, executive director of Waterville Creates!, a consortium of arts and cultural groups working with community arts, creative and cultural organizations. Haines and Rudy spoke about ongoing efforts to promote arts and culture through partnerships and collaboration with Waterville Main Street, the Colby Museum of Art, MaineGeneral Health, Inland Hospital, the Waterville Opera House, Common Street Arts, the annual film festival, Waterville Public Library and other venues.

The National Endowment for the Arts awarded the film festival a $10,000 grant that allowed the World Filmmakers Forum to be held at this year’s fest, Haines said. Filmmakers from France, Argentina, Turkey and Mexico participated in panel discussions, question-and-answer sessions and receptions, in addition to screening their films.

“This is something that you can be very proud of,” Chu, speaking about the city’s arts and culture efforts, told a group of about 30 people attending the event Tuesday. “You have not only the short-term view; you have the long-term view. Congratulations. Not every community has that.”

Those attending also included Rep. Henry Beck, D-Waterville, Waterville Main Street Executive Director Jennifer Olsen, Waterville Creates! marketing director Dick Dyer and Patricia King, associate director at Colby Museum of Art.

Chu was in Waterville at the invitation of Pingree, who on Monday accompanied her to Portland, where they visited the Portland Museum of Art; The Telling Room, a writing center on Commercial Street; and the Veterans Resource Center at University of Southern Maine.

Chu was scheduled to visit the Bates College Museum of Art and the Somali Bantu Community Association on Tuesday afternoon in Lewiston and travel to Brunswick on Wednesday to visit Spindleworks, the Bowdoin International Music Festival site on Park Row and the Bowdoin Museum of Art.

In Waterville, Haines said the Maine Film Center’s mission is to enrich, educate and entertain the community through film and art. It does so with the Maine International Film Festival; Railroad Square Cinema; the Monday night film series at the Opera House; digital filmmaking workshops, co-presented with the Mid-Maine Technical Center; art in the lobby at Railroad Square; film screening and other events at Common Street Arts; the Maine Student Film & Video Festival; and other activities.

Haines said Railroad Square started in 1978 as a three-screen independent art cinema. The Maine Film Center raised $1 million and bought the cinema in 2012, updated its digital projection, renovated parts of the building and hired her as executive director.

“It’s been around for a long time and it has an amazing reputation,” she said.

The center’s goals were to ensure a long-term home for the film festival, extend the Maine Film Center’s programming year-round and consolidate the city’s film resources. The film festival itself started in 1998 at both the cinema and the Opera House. It offers 10 days of showing about 100 independent American, international, Maine-made and classic films. While typically 50 filmmakers participate in the festival, this year there were 70, Haines said. Admissions to the festival neared 10,000 this summer, she added.

Rudy also gave an overview of Waterville Creates!, which he said exemplifies arts and culture appreciation as the key to Waterville’s resurgence as a vibrant creative center for the Kennebec Valley and a driver for economic development.

He said the mission of the organization also is to make opportunities for arts and culture to enrich the community through creative experiences.

The Maine Arts Commission awarded Waterville Creates! a $10,000 seed grant to do cultural planning work.

Pingree, Richard and Haines spoke about the ideal setting Maine offers for filmmaking, but they acknowledged the difficulties filmmakers face when trying to work here, because an incentives program is not in place. The Legislature has been working on that issue.

“It’s just not a fixed issue, and if we could fix it, we would,” Pingree said.

She added that the state provides a perfect scenic venue for filmmaking.

“We have the best setup, by far: unspoiled main streets, rural settings, real fishermen, real harbors, wonderful people to be extras.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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