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Art At Work • Projects

Three Cheers and lasting thanks to Elmina B. Sewall Foundation for their continued support of Portland Works, Art At Works city and community arts project.

Challenges: establish structures for ongoing communication and relationships between municipal and community leaders; decrease ten­sions within and between immigrant/refugee communities and city de­partments; reduce incidence of lawsuits that charge city workforce with misconduct; leverage economic advantages that accompany Portland’s diverse, international population

Strategy: connect city staff, elected officials and community lead­ers through artmaking workshops that address personal, practical, and political topics; use works generated in this process to create public art installations that further the goals of the project

Portland Works employs artmaking as a catalyst to build enduring, authen­tic relationships which are essential to meeting the increasing challenges facing cities. Created in response to civic and social tensions between city employees, elected officials and the immigrant and refugee communities, Portland Works partners municipal participants – city councilors, police, public service, social service, fire and EMS workers – with community leaders who represent both the city’s growing diversity and the residents who have lived here for generations. Exploring topics including civics, history, life stories and the “state of the city,” participants meet monthly to create and share individual artworks.

Project challenges are addressed through education, discussion and art­making, with a final distillation of the art that’s been created – photog­raphy, mosaics, collage, printmaking, poetry, graffiti, video, audio, music – into public art projects. Such projects might include sidewalk stencils, park benches, murals, painted light poles, images on sanitation trucks – all of it art that connects people to the communities, each other and the city.

The last workshop in each Portland Works session includes a debriefing to evaluate of the impacts of the project and share that knowledge with local and national audiences. The first session of Portland Works includes 30 participants meeting over the course of 4 months (3 artmaking work­shops + debriefing session). It is our hope and intention to repeat Portland Works multiple times over the next two years in order to reach a maxi­mum audience, thereby increasing the project’s reach and impact.

COMMUNITY COLLABORATORS:

City of Portland, Police / Public Services / Health & Human Services Departments, AFSCME Local 481, Portland Adult Education, Maine Historical Society, League of Young Voters, Portland Housing Authority, Portland Trails

In choosing the three departments to begin work­ing with, Marty chose the most misunderstood and most stressed departments in the municipal system — police, public services and health and human services. Art At Work initiative has al­ready made a real transformation for our employ­ees. Should we already have had respect for each other? Yes. But is municipal government set up to give that respect a chance to be made visible? Rarely. For the city councilors, with increasing pressures regarding money, layoffs, and budget cuts, the challenge is to get the arts to be as cen­tral, as core to our community, as a police cruiser or a water fountain.

Pat Finnigan,

Assistant City Manager, City of Portland

Potential mural site for the Public Works.

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