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Work continues on regional cultural plan

HOULTON, Maine — What sorts of cultural events and activities, if any, should be the focus for southern Aroostook and northern Penobscot and Washington counties?

Richard Silliboy reviews a copy of the Tri-County Region Cultural Plan that was unveiled Tuesday, April 10, during a focus group presentation. (Joseph Cyr | Pioneer Times)

That is the question the Regional Creative Council has been trying to answer for the past year as it tries to determine what aspects to develop from a cultural plan created for the region over the past two years.

To assist in their endeavor to implement the recently completed Tri-County Region Cultural Plan, the group unveiled the results of a two-year study during a Tuesday, April 10, meeting at the Houlton Higher Education Center.

“We were very pleased with the number of people who attended and those who have expressed an interest in being involved as we move forward,” said Nancy Ketch, Houlton Community Development Director. “We will be setting up follow up sessions to begin working on things. All present were interested in continuing to be involved.  We will be looking to move the meeting locations around the region.”

The RCC was created three years ago through a collaborative effort of the Southern Aroostook Cultural Arts Project, Cary Library, Houlton Community Arts Center Council, Houlton Higher Education Center and Houlton’s Community Development Department.

Jim Bell, left, and Iva Sussman discuss some of the items in the Tri-County Region Cultural Plan that was presented to the public Tuesday, April 10. In the foreground is Susan Tortello. (Joseph Cyr | Pioneer Times)

“The Regional Creative Council was formed to enhance the artistic, cultural, educational and economic climate within our entire tri-County region,” Ketch said.

“We started this process three years ago, when the Maine Arts Commission came up to Houlton to discuss their grant programs and opportunities,” Ketch explained. “We selected an area from Bridgewater down to Danforth and over to Patten for our region.”

The group secured three grants in 2016 totaling $30,000 to develop a cultural plan and to hire a consultant to facilitate the process. Grants totaling $10,000 each were awarded by the Maine Arts Commission, Maine Community Foundation and the Betterment Fund.

Back in May 2017, a public opinion survey was conducted to understand what area residents and visitors think about the value, relevance and access to arts and cultural resources. One part of the survey was focused on artists and crafters and sought to learn about the intricacies, needs and perspectives of creatives. Other sections of the survey asked questions to assess the challenges, needs and priorities of creative organizations and businesses.

A total of 241 people (a little over 1 percent of the population in the tri-county region) responded to the survey, Ketch said. Of those responding to the survey, the majority were from Aroostook County.

After reviewing the survey results, meeting participants on Tuesday identified the short-term goals of cultural plan of greatest importance — completing an inventory of assets for the area; categorizing the listing and then publicizing it; developing an e-newsletter; and providing information for area businesses about Google Places along with other social media tips to increase traffic.

More long-range efforts include improving signage, mapping and branding for cultural areas, developing a marketing plan, and focusing on efforts that preserve the area’s heritage and traditions.

“We will continue to develop projects to include in grant applications to be submitted in 2019,” Ketch said.

The goal, Ketch said, is to have as many municipalities endorse the cultural plan. To date, Houlton and Danforth have adopted the plan.

Copies of the plan can be viewed at the Houlton Community Development Office, located at the Houlton Town Office, 21 Water St. or by calling 532-7111.

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