By Ramona du Houx

December 15, 2010

0cb585755547c0cb-wartDSC_0106-300x199John Rohman – Chair of Maine Arts Commission, Governor John Baldacci holding the cross cultural art agreement and the Director of Maine Arts Commission Donna McNeil. photo by Ramona du Houx

On December 7, 2010, Governor John Baldacci was presented with the initial report outlining future opportunities for expanding cross-border cultural and business opportunities with New Brunswick. In July, the Governor signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with then-Premier Shawn Graham of New Brunswick. The Maine Arts Commission was tasked to work with its counterpart in New Brunswick to develop this first report, which identifies key areas for the State and province to focus on in the future.

“Maine’s creative economy – our entrepreneurs and artists – is an economic engine in this State,” said Governor Baldacci. “Collaborations with our neighbors in New Brunswick in key areas will enhance economic vitality, increase our competitiveness in attracting investments and tourism, and grow jobs. I am pleased to receive this report and hope that future efforts to promote arts and culture between Maine and New Brunswick will enrich our economies and quality of life for all people in our region.”

The report provides an assessment of key factors that hold promise for future collaboration. More than 32,240 Maine jobs are supported through trade between the U.S. and Canada. Canadians make more than 885,400 visits to Maine annually, spending an estimated $266 million. Recent reports show that three of the top five vacation activities of 2011 are projected to be cultural; these include visits to festivals, visits to art museums and touring historic sites.

“One example of how this exchange will help is with a troupe of performers that want to tour from Connecticut to Quebec. Before this exchange it was cumbersome to get all the documentation in order and permissions,” said Kerstin Gilg, Maine Arts Commission Performing and Media Arts Associate.

The report also focused on five key areas for the two regions to work on: encouraging cultural business and tourism opportunities; enhancing cultural information exchange; streamlining the border-crossing process; collaborating in cross-border cultural projects; and examining ways to capitalize on the lessons learned through previous cultural collaborations. A follow-up report is due in April that will concentrate on the status of the identified tasks and the feasibility, practicality and logistics of enhanced support.

“Art and culture are ever more important global commodities, and we work diligently to keep Maine competitive,” said Donna McNeil of the Maine Arts Commission, lead for the State on the task force. “Maine has a distinct culture which is valuable and marketable. Mainers recognize how cultural assets help create jobs, strengthen the economy and build community.”

In the coming months the task force will evaluate potential initiatives and prioritize them into action steps to be implemented in the lead up to the Acadian World Congress in 2014. Organizers expect this event – taking place in northern Maine, northwest New Brunswick and Témisoucata County in Québec – to bring up to $50 million into these regions.

“Expanding our competitiveness in this economy is enhanced by reaching across boundaries and working with our partners,” said the Governor. “Good work has been completed to get us to this point. I hope that we will see continuation of these kinds of partnerships.”

In 2003 Governor Baldacci held Maine’s first Creative Economy Summit, where Richard Florida author of books about the creative economy, spoke about the untapped potential of entrepreneurs and how that talent could spur economic growth. Since then public/private collaborations have been formed throughout the state and downtown communities have witnessed a resurgence in activities from performances to festivals and art shows. New restaurants, and unique shops have opened their doors. And when a historic building tax credit law was passed renovations of classic buildings began. The states emphasis on the creative economy has helped rebuild Maine’s downtown communities.

Now, opening the doors to cross cultural activities with Canada should benefit both sides of the boarder culturally and economically.