The Maine Arts Commission hopes to establish a nonprofit fundraising arm to add to the 61 cents per capita that the state now spends on the arts. The group will unveil a five-year cultural plan Thursday that calls for increasing that spending rate to something closer to the national average of $1.09.

“We have to get to the national average, and we would like to go higher than that if we can,” said Julie Richard, the commission’s director.

The arts commission now relies almost wholly on funding allocated by the Legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts. The fundraising group would allow the commission to increase spending that benefits artists and arts groups directly, Richard said.

Richard, her staff and a statewide steering committee spent the past year surveying Mainers, gathering data and writing a blueprint for the arts leading up to Maine’s bicentennial in 2020. Their findings are the backbone of “Fortifying Maine’s Creativity & Culture: A Five-Year Cultural Plan, 2015-2020.”

The underlying conclusion is that the arts are underfunded, arts organizations lack foundational strength and Maine can do a better job promoting the arts through tourism and “brand awareness.” The strategies for fixing those problems include an increase in state spending and the creation of ArtsEngageMe, the fundraising group.

The plan also suggests strengthening K-12 arts education statewide by promoting collaborations among schools, artists and arts groups.

Richard will present a summary of her goals beginning at 5 p.m. Thursday at Point Lookout in Northport. The program also includes entertainment, dinner and an address by former National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Bill Ivey. To entice artists and arts administrators to attend, the Maine Arts Commission is raffling two $2,500 stipends, one each for an artist and an organization.

“We have not paid a lot of attention over the last many years in building our foundation in order to increase the capacity of artists and arts organizations,” Richard said. “This plan goes backward a little bit to put that foundation in place, so we can adequately serve artists and arts organizations.”

Among other things, that means providing professional development opportunities for administrators and artists alike, to assist with running an efficient and effective arts group and providing workshops for artists to help with things like filing taxes and applying for grants.

The Maine Arts Commission has an annual budget of about $1.75 million and spends about $500,000 of that on grants to artists and arts organizations. It receives about $700,000 each year from the National Endowment for the Arts and $1 million from the state.

There are nearly 3,000 arts groups and creative enterprises in Maine, Richard said, but since 2000 not more than 300 per year have applied for grants.

“This is because fund amounts have been limited and, for many groups, not worth the time to apply,” the report concludes.

About 5,000 people work in the arts in Maine, ranking the state’s arts, creative and cultural sector 37th among 65 sectors the U.S. Bureau of Labor uses to report employment trends.

Twenty-seven other state-run arts agencies have supplemental fundraising mechanisms in place, similar to the fundraising arm the commission is working to create, Richard said.

The plan calls for establishing an organization that would raise as much as $1 million annually to spend on the arts. In addition to raising money, it would serve as a statewide arts advocate across disciplines, including lobbying for the arts at the legislative level.

Artist and arts blogger Erin Thomas appreciates the state paying attention to the arts, but worries the cultural plan will get in the way of its own goals.

“We need less bureaucracy and more art,” said Thomas, who lives in Berwick and criticized the cultural plan in a blog she posted this week. “I have no interest in networking. I just want to make art.”

The Legislature must approve the agency’s creation, and Richard is working with Republican state Rep. Mike McClellan of Raymond to file a bill in the next session. The bill was not among the 32 approved by the Legislative Council in October for consideration in the next session, which is designated for “emergency” bills.

Richard said she would appeal in hopes that a bill establishing a funding arm will be considered.


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