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Updated: August 10, 2020 / 2020 Women to Watch Honorees

Women to Watch: Marcia Minter strengthens the voices of Maine artists of color

PHOTo / Tim Greenway Marcia Minter, left, co-founder and executive director of Indigo Arts Alliance, and intern Aminata Conteh discuss the art of Sarah K. Khan, who was an artist in residence at last fall.

When Marcia Minter moved to Maine from Chicago with her family in 2003 to become vice president and creative director at L.L.Bean, it took a while for the Black family to adjust after living in big cities with diverse populations.

It helped that she kept busy, leading a department of more than 40 people and travelling frequently for photo shoots and ad campaigns as well as raising a son.

“Between work and being a mother, and also becoming and being involved in several boards focused on the community and the arts very early on, we found a way to make Maine, particularly Portland, home,” she says.

Today, she aims to give artists of color a spiritual home of sorts through Indigo Arts Alliance, a nonprofit community arts space she founded last year with her husband, artist Daniel Minter.

“We’re not a gallery, we are not producing theater and performances, we are about ideas and concepts at the incubation stage,” she emphasizes.

Indigo aims to amplify the creative practices, voices and vision of Black and Brown artists through a residency program Minter calls the “heart and soul of why Indigo exists.” It pairs Maine-based artists of African descent with international artists of color. Indigo Arts Alliance also holds community events including this summer’s virtual Beautiful Blackbird Children’s Book Festival in honor of writer and children’s book illustrator Ashley Bryan, who lives on Little Cranberry Island.

Artists who have gone through Indigo’s residency program include Sean Alonzo Harris, a Waterville-based editorial, commercial and fine art photographer who was paired up with spoken-word poet, teacher and mental health advocate Nyamuon Nguany Machar, a member of Maine’s South Sudanese community who goes by the name Moon.

Though the residency ended early because of the pandemic, Harris says the experience opened his eyes to art as a visual language, and that having the space at Indigo to create and step out of the everyday was “tremendously powerful.”

Harris has known the Minters for years and says he’s inspired by Marcia’s clear vision with patience and empathy, kind nature and tenacity, which he says is unusual for someone who’s spent her career as a creative professional.

“Creatives will try to dominate the space with their knowledge,” he says, “so it’s nice to have someone who actually listens and takes into account your vision and tries to bring the two together. That’s her secret sauce.”

Marcia Minter standing in gallery
File photo / Tim Greenway
Marcia Minter, co-founder and executive director of Indigo Arts Alliance in Portland.

Minter’s influence on the arts community includes service with organizations such as the Maine Arts Commission, Maine Media Workshops and College, Portland Ovations and the Portland Museum of Art. She also received an honorary doctor of fine arts last year from Maine College of Art for her commitment to community and social activism.

It was presented at the commencement ceremony where her husband was the featured speaker.

Coffee By Design co-founder Mary Allen Lindemann, a fellow Portland Ovations board member, says that Minter has been a steady voice for inclusivity, adding: “She’s been changing things behind the scenes all along while keeping her own vision and dream of forming Indigo Arts Alliance.”

Long advertising and marketing career

Minter, who grew up in Richmond, Va., guesses that she was about 8 years old when she knew she wanted to go into the creative field.

While studying in Atlanta she met her future husband in a karate class, and they lived in Seattle, Brazil, New York and Chicago before coming to Maine. He’s a painter, sculptor and illustrator, while she has earned her stripes as a creative director at advertising agencies as well as in-house for companies including Essence magazine and retailer Spiegel. She also received national recognition in the form of multiple awards from the Retail Advertising Council and the Society of Publication Designers.

During her 16 years at L.L.Bean, where she led creative teams in print, digital media and retail, Minter led all of the 100th anniversary branding and creative work in 2012, helped the company launch its Signature clothing collection and conceptualized and developed L.L.Bean’s in-house photo studio operation, according to President and CEO Stephen Smith.

“She’s a true visionary, a big ideas person, and she can harness creativity and business insight to execute real award-winning results driving creative output,” he says. “That is a really special combination.”

Leeann Leahy, CEO of Portland’s VIA Agency who worked with Minter on the “Be an Outsider” campaign, says, “She was always a vocal advocate for the bigness of the idea, but paid close attention to the craft of the details.”

Leahy also knows Minter as a fellow Portland Museum of Art trustee and adds, “Marcia sees what is possible and invites others to join her in making the imagined very, very real — all the while with a smile.”

Bringing a dream to life

An idea 25 years in the making, Indigo Arts Alliance opened in spring 2019 in a 4,500-square-foot leased space in a new building developed by Peter Bass, a self-described cultural developer whose portfolio includes Portland’s first dedicated artist studio building he created in 1986 and still manages.

Along with nearby Cove Street Arts, Indigo Arts Alliance anchors what is fast becoming a creative hub in Portland’s East Bayside neighborhood.

While Bass says he would have built the building that now houses Indigo Arts Alliance anyway, “I needed a tenant and they were such a great fit we worked together to build it for them.” Of Minter specifically, he says, “Her attitude towards making things happen to move towards the big picture is incredible … Once we put the pedal to the metal, it all happened very fast.”

Creative Portland, the city’s nonprofit arts agency led by Executive Director Dinah Minot, also helped get Indigo off the ground, as its fiscal sponsor before it achieved official nonprofit status. A long-time friend of both Minters, she says of Marcia: “Any of our collaborations have always ended up in a ‘yes’ response.” Cove Street Arts co-director John Danos is equally impressed with the number and variety of events at Indigo, saying, “The breadth of what they’re doing there is incredible.”

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