As co-chair of the Congressional Arts Caucus, Pingree touts Maine’s booming creative economy.

With the appointment of U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree to co-chair of the Congressional Arts Caucus, Maine gets a louder and more influential voice in the push for continued funding for the arts.

Pingree, who represents Maine’s 1st Congressional District, succeeds the late Louise Slaughter as Democratic co-chair of the bipartisan caucus. Members of the caucus advocate for arts funding at the federal level, raising awareness among other representatives in Congress about the economic impact of the arts as well as their intrinsic value.

“For me, this is an opportunity to continue advancing and supporting funding for the arts, which is clearly an important part of the economy in Maine,” Pingree said in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon. “The role that federal funding has played in enhancing opportunities for the arts in Maine is very critical. Especially now with the current administration attempting to zero out funding (for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities), it’s more important than ever.”

Including money from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the federal government spends about $4.5 million in Maine annually. Much of the federal money spent on the arts in Maine is distributed in the form of grants awarded to artists and arts organizations from the Maine Arts Commission and the Maine Humanities Council.

Pingree already is in a position of influence when it comes to arts funding. She serves on the House Appropriations Committee and the Interior Appropriations Committee, which approves NEA and NEH budgets. Last fall, she was named an ex-officio member of the National Council on the Arts, which advises the NEA on its grant programs and policy decisions.

With her appointment as co-chair of the Congressional Arts Caucus, Pingree will be in a better position to advocate among her colleagues to continue federal spending on the arts, she said. “Arts funding and arts in a community isn’t a Republican or Democratic thing. The arts truly bring people together. If you care about your local historical society or you support your community theater, that’s not a partisan, political issue. The arts are a great way to bridge what divides us,” Pingree said.

According to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the NEA, the arts and cultural sector contributed more than $763.6 billion to the American economy in 2015, which is more than the agriculture, transportation or warehousing sectors. The arts generated 4.2 percent of the overall U.S. GDP, with roughly 4.9 million Americans working in the sector in 2015, the latest year for which data is available. Pingree and other will use that data in their discussions to maintain funding for the arts.

When she talks about the transformative power of the arts, Pingree points to cities like Rockland. The traditional fishing community is now a destination for tourists and Maine residents with its museums and galleries. Restaurants, hotels and an array of nightlife followed the arts to town, creating an economic boom, Pingree said. Waterville, a mill town, also has benefited from an arts-centered economic development, she said.

“The arts and all that comes with the it have brought a lot of economic opportunity to a community that wasn’t seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. I think that’s true in communities across the country, whether in mill towns or industrial towns,” Pingree said. The arts build tourism and attract young people to settle here, and state and federal investments “are a big piece of this renaissance,” she said.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi announced Pingree’s appointment in a news release Wednesday. “Chellie profoundly understands the power of the arts to revitalize and inspire communities across the nation,” Pelosi said in a statement. “We are confident that she will bring great passion, vision and joy to this important caucus.”

Pingree said she was honored to succeed Slaughter as co-chair of the caucus. “She was an amazing member, and beloved on both sides of the aisle,” Pingree said.

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

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Twitter: pphbkeyes