March 6, 2012 | last updated March 8, 2012 10:35 am

Conference to showcase Portland's creative economy

Photo/Courtesy Creative Portland Corp.
Photo/Courtesy Creative Portland Corp.
Jennifer Hutchins, executive director of Creative Portland Corp.

A conference to be held in the summer of 2013 will bring hundreds of creative professionals, economic development experts and city planners to Portland, highlighting the city's arts district and promoting the exchange of ideas and best practices around the concept of a creative economy.

The 2013 Creative Communities Exchange, organized by The New England Foundation for the Arts, will feature workshops focused on various elements of a creative economy including downtown revitalization, professional development for artists and small businesses, impact data collection, planning, zoning, space development and marketing.

Sponsored locally by The Maine Center for Creativity, creative economy nonprofit Creative Portland Corp. and the Greater Portland Convention & Visitors Bureau, the event will include workshops discussing the implementation and results of creative economy projects from around New England, like Bangor's American Folk Festival and MCC's nonprofit economic impact study.

"Portland is really growing around its creative industries and thriving as a cultural community -- a place where creative business people are living and working," says Jean Maginnis, founder and director of the Maine Center for Creativity.

The benefits of the conference are twofold, according to Maginnis, allowing Portland insight into the best practices of similar creative communities while simultaneously promoting the city to hundreds of influential visitors.

The conference also stands to bring in upwards of $300,000 into the local economy as participants from around New England dine, lodge and soak up the culture of the Portland area, according to Barbara Whitten, president and CEO of the CVB.

Hosted every other year in cities and towns around New England, the past two incarnations of the conference were held in Providence, R.I. and North Adams, Mass. Hoping to expand the event into northern New England, NEFA primarily solicited applications from communities within Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, garnering bids from nine locations including Keene, N.H., Burlington, Vt., and Camden, Bangor and Lewiston.

In Portland, the cooperation between three such entities and the prospect of hosting the event in a living, working arts district won over the NEFA selection committee. "Portland has three strong partners all banded together, and the proposal to do it in a downtown creative district was very appealing," says Nella Young, New England services coordinator for NEFA.

"Instead of [hosting] in one building or conference hall, we're going to be in various sites in the creative district to really highlight what's going on there," says Young, citing The Salt Institute of Documentary Studies, Maine College of Art and Space Gallery as a few potential locations.

Currently scheduled to run June 6 and 7 of next year, the conference will dovetail with one of the most well-known and visible events in the city's creative calendar -- the First Friday Art Walk. "It's nice because it's really relevant to the topic and it highlights some of the specific organizations that won't be the focus of the event but have a presence in the area," said Young.

For Creative Portland Executive Director Jennifer Hutchins, the conference is an opportunity to showcase the work her organization has been doing since 2008: soliciting grants, donations and contributions to aid in enhancing the city's creative economy, arts district development and employment opportunities.

With a stated goal of attracting 10,000 new creative professionals to the Portland area, Creative Portland's professional-networking program Two Degrees connects artists and entrepreneurs "from away" with Portland-based creatives, a sort of person-to-person marketing push that currently sees 30 to 40 inquiries per month, according to Hutchins.

In working with the city and traditional business community to promote the creative economy, Hutchins said that Creative Portland has "made a lot of headway" in gaining recognition and support. Serving on the Greater Portland Economic Development Corp., Hutchins has seen a growing awareness of the creative economy concept.

Moral, if not financial, support from the city has helped Creative Portland to address its economy-building goals, but Hutchins hopes events like the conference will continue to raise Portland's profile as a creative, livable city. "The city definitely gets it, I've had great conversations with the new mayor and [city] councilors and there seems to be universal agreement that one of the things we really need to focus on is promoting our city nationally and internationally as a place that has such a fabulous quality of life that you would want to come and live and work here," says Hutchins.

"Hopefully all of these people coming [for the conference] will become ambassadors, if you will, [who] go back to areas and say 'There's a lot happening in Portland," says Hutchins.

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