The most visible result of a recent round of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts will be artistic flourishes on four new bus shelters to be installed in the coming year by Portland Metro. But the most impact might be felt in communities across Maine that will send 70 of their kids to Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Deer Isle for a new craft workshop for Maine LGBTQ high schoolers.

Among the 10 Maine arts groups receiving a total of $1 million awarded last week by the NEA, Creative Portland received a $25,000 matching grant to support the first phase of a program to design artistic bus shelters for Portland. The program will pay artists to complement newly placed shelters with fresh artistic designs, said Dinah Minot, executive director of Creative Portland, which wrote the grant and is leading the project in partnership with the Greater Portland Council of Governments and Metro. “We are considering add-ons and decorative elements to the structures that Metro is already putting up. We are not planning to do a ground-up build, which would cost a lot more money,” she said.

The location of the bus shelters hasn’t been determined. Two likely will be on city property and two on private property in high-traffic areas like the University of Southern Maine or Thompson’s Point, Minot said.

Minot and Kristina Egan, executive director of the Greater Portland Council of Governments, hatched the idea and approached Metro. A curatorial team with representatives from local museums, galleries, USM, the Portland Public Art Committee, Black Artists Forum of Maine and the Creative Portland board will select four artists or four artist teams.

A call for art likely will go out in the fall. “We will hope to have a selection by the New Year or early January so we can actually install and create some of these structures by summer 2020,” Minot said. “We plan to complete them on budget and with a newsworthy splash of visual excellence so we can go back to the NEA and apply for a grant with another zero on it.”

The only thing limiting the design possibilities is imagination, she added. “They may involve steel cut pieces, woodcarvings, ropes, ceramics, paintings. There are all kind of things you could do to alter the structure but not change the actual form or function,” she said.


Creative Portland received the grant through NEA’s Our Town creative placemaking program. The goal of the initiative is to encourage multi-modal transportation, increase ridership and promote social harmony by using public art to celebrate diversity and inclusion, Minot said.

Haystack received $10,000 from the NEA to put toward a new program for Maine LGBTQ youth Sept. 13-15 at Haystack’s Deer Isle campus. Haystack is presenting the workshop weekend in collaboration with Out Maine. It will be open to about 70 Maine students. Out Maine recently notified art teachers and leaders of safe clubs in Maine schools about the program, seeking nominations of talented students. Nominations are due May 31.

The NEA grant will cover part of the program’s costs. Money from the Morton-Kelly Charitable Trust and Crewe Foundation also supports the program. Buses will be hired to transport kids from rural areas to the remote campus.

Students will arrive on Friday afternoon, settle into their cabins and share a community meal. Workshops will begin Friday night and continue through Sunday morning. Students, faculty and chaperones will participate in workshops, evening presentations and discussions.

LGBTQ artists from around the country will teach workshops, said Haystack director Paul Sacaridiz. Faculty include Vivian Beer (blacksmithing), Steven Frost (fiber), Joshua Hebbert (clay), Everett Hoffman (metals), Sylvie Rosenthal (wood) and Hope Rovelto (graphics).

The time is right, and Haystack is the right place, Sacaridiz said. “This program feels like it matches with one of our core priorities as a school, which is expanding the ways in which we are an inclusive organization. We talk about diversity being a high priority, and it is. But much better work is inclusivity,” he said.

Jeanne Dooley, executive director of Out Maine, suggested the program to Sacaridiz while she was taking an indigo dyeing workshop at Haystack. Out Maine is always looking for ways to reach Maine youth and incorporate the arts. The Haystack workshops will change lives by empowering these kids with the confidence of self-expression, she said. “For most of these young people, the kabash has put on their self-expression.” She called the partnership “a match made in heaven. We think this is a wonderful pilot program and a demonstration of the way arts communities can support these kids. We hope it will spawn more arts programming for LGBTQ kids here in Maine and nationwide.”

According to statistics from Out Maine, more than 800 Maine high school students identify as transgender. Half have been bullied and one-third have been been threatened or injured, Dooley said. Nearly three-quarters of trans students said they were depressed, and half have seriously considered suicide in the past year.

In addition to providing students with art training and a safe community, the Haystack weekend also will expose them to role models in the arts, Dooley said. “All the teachers are LGBTQ. They’re modeling out successful lives in the arts, and the value of that cannot be overstated,” she said.

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