Artists and arts administrators across Maine came together in Portland on Friday to celebrate their accomplishments and recognize their leaders as part of the first Maine Arts Awards. The midday awards ceremony at Hannaford Hall at the University of Southern Maine was the centerpiece of the two-day Maine International Conference on the Arts, presented by the Maine Arts Commission.

Bill Raiten, who founded the New Surry Theatre in Blue Hill in 1972, received the lifetime achievement award in recognition of his work as an actor, director and educator.

Emily Isaacson, director of the Oratorio Chorale and founder of the Portland Bach Experience, received the artist of the year award.

The rural arts award, recognizing an arts organization that supports the arts in lightly populated communities in far-flung parts of the state, went to the Rangeley Friends of the Performing Arts, which has provided an outlet for actors, musicians and other performers in Franklin and Oxford counties for 50 years.

In contrast to that level of longevity, the arts education award went to the Portland-based classical music educational ensemble 240 Strings, which has been in existence for three years. The group provides free classical music education to kids who can’t afford lessons.

The community organization award went to the group Schoodic Arts for All, and the arts philanthropy award went to the married couple Alan and Lorna Crichton, founders of Waterfalls Arts in Belfast and supporters of arts in the midcoast generally.

Recipients received handcrafted ash baskets made by Molly Neptune Parker, a Passamaquoddy basketmaker who lives in Princeton and was named a National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2012. The state arts agency commissioned Parker to make the baskets for the awards program.

Julie Richard, executive director of the Maine Arts Commission, said the awards would become an annual event. They are supported by the commission’s new nonprofit support and advocacy agency, ArtsEngageMe.

Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling addressed the gathering at noon, recounting his own story as a theater student at The Juilliard School in New York. One of his grandmothers was an actress, and his father acted in New York for many years. Strimling was ready to follow that path, but gave up on acting after a couple of years of study, saying, “I loved the process, but I didn’t love the performances.”

He said the arts are responsible for about $75 million in economic activity in Portland, but the value of the arts cannot be measured in dollars. “It’s about the quality of life, and it’s about how it makes our community better,” Strimling said. “While I am mayor, I want to do everything I can to promote the arts.”

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

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Twitter: pphbkeyes

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