Hi. My name is Marty Pottenger. Seven years ago I moved from NYC to Portland Maine to see if art could change a city. I’ve been an activist and theater artist since high school. For decades, I resisted identifying as an artist but after years of traditional activism mixed with community-engaged performance projects, I finally had to face the fact that something happens in live theater/performance that doesn’t happen anywhere else. A place gets created where people can realize/connect/remember/decide things about themselves, the world and each other…the sorts of things that end up changing lives.
The idea that’s become “Art At Work” came to me while I was thinking about the scale of challenges we are facing in the world and how innovative, sustainable solutions would very likely be local. The idea was to put creativity to work improving a city’s municipal government by tackling non-arts community problems by designing and implementing arts projects. The basic goal was that art could help cities save money, deepen residents awareness and expectations of local government, and increase the sort of pride among neighborhoods and residents that leads to robust civic engagement.
Since 2007, police officers have turned around historic low morale by partnering with local poets and writing over 100 poems about their work. Public Service construction workers have become more welcoming by sharing stories about their own heritages and carving prints that hang in their workplaces. Officers and poets came together twice for community-wide civic dialogues about the role of the police in Portland, dialogues that began with a poetry readings. The workers who take your money at the parking garage, City Hall treasury, and library desk have written stories, essays, and poems about themselves and their work which were turned into posters that hang next to the elevators, counters and hallways where they work. It’s not been very easy, but it has been hugely rewarding.
Two years ago, the police found themselves in over 15 rock & bottle-throwing confrontations with teenagers angry about the shooting death of an armed man by police officers. The police chief called to ask if I would write and direct a play with officers to perform for high school students. So I asked him to make sure that I bot to work with the department’s toughest officers. After multiple ride-alongs, interviews, workshops and rehearsals, the performance – Radio Calls – was performed by five officers at all 3 Portland high schools. It had a transformative impact on the relationship between the officers and the students, particularly immigrant and refugee students, who are a significant part of our community.
OUR STORY and VIDEOS
You can see excerpts from “Radio Calls” below along with several other videos from different projects. The Public Services Construction Crew talking for the first time ever to the public about the effect of being stereotyped as a ‘shovel leaner’ and the pride they take in the work they do, as artist Katarina Weslien connects street repair and Jackson Pollock. Or (then) lieutenant, who is now our Police Chief, reading his poem and talking about the impact of Art At Work from his perspective. And finally, internationally-respected graffiti artist Tim Clorius, a part of “Good Fences for Good Neighbors” which helped bring our city’s Somali mosque and the East Bayside Neighborhood Organization together.
What We Need & What You Get
We’re asking for your help – money, outreach, encouragement, ideas – in reaching our goal of raising $19,575 before the end of the year if possible. The money will help us continue to pay the artists we work with.. Whatever the amount your contribution will not only let us keep this experiment going in Portland but also help spread what we’ve learned to other cities, artists, and communities. We now have an Art At Work Holyoke. We hear from London UK, Austin TX, & Danbury VT that AAW ideas are making a difference. Some of the 2014 projects that we've been developing with city staff, grassroots leaders, and elected officials --- “All The Way Home” a story exchange with veterans in Cumberland County; “Hearts, Minds & Homes” a 2 year performance project on gentrification and homelessness (two of our most critical issues); and our first Art At Work Lab, a summer learning exchange for artists, municipal staff and organizers from around the country. And there are always projects created in response to real time events and challenges, sort of a “a true reality show” as coined by our newspaper The Portland Press Herald.
We wanted the perks to offer a meaningful connection and to reflect the nature of the work we do. They include original Police Poetry Calendar with poetry and photographs by Portland officers, poets and photographers; an 84 page book about Art At Work; a studio visit with one of our artists; an Art At Work mug; local artist original neighborhood map posters; and a gathering where we will get to meet each other and thank you personally.
Portland Police Poetry Calendar
Our AAW mug and booklet
Neighborhood map posters by Kyle Bryant, Elizabeth Jabar, Alison Goodwin, and Patrick Corrigan
We’re real good at making a little go far. We’ve been nominated for a National League of Cities ‘Best Practices’; selected as a model of creative placemaking by the National Endowment for the Arts and received a ‘Hero Award’ from our police department for being courageous-enough to propose poetry writing to police officers. We’ve tackled some tough issues, gotten into a couple good scrapes, built relationships with humor and respect, created beautiful public art, inspired conversations, collaborations, and reflection. And we’ve saved the city money. Our team of city workers, community leaders and artists asks for your help to put creativity to work building sustainable relationships and putting ideas into action for more and more cities in the next several years.
Here’s a list of some of the remarkable artists we’ve had the honor
to work with. Each of them has offered to host a studio visit for our
$1000 contributors, website links below.
Martin Steingesser, poet http://www.martinsteingesser.com/
Patrick Corrigan, visual artist http://thirtysevena.com/tagged/Patrick-Corrigan
Gibson Faye-LeBlanc, poet http://gibsonfayleblanc.com/
Betsy Sholl, poet http://www.betsysholl.com/
Marty Pottenger, multidisciplinary, theater http://www.martypottenger.com
Dave Wade, photographer http://www.davewadephoto.com/
Jan Piribeck, visual artist https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WqAcDaNxCzY
Tim Clorius, visual artist http://timclorius.com/
Other Ways You Can Help
Whether you are able to contribute money or not, we can use your help. You can use Indiegogo’s Social Media tools, Facebook, Twitter, email, telephone or personal visit to get the word out. We are a community where people, ideas, listening and creativity are at the center. That’s the heart of what we do.
PS - What We Think We Know
Director, Art At Work