2016-01-22 / Front Page

Arts committee seeks input

By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — The South Portland Arts and Historic Preservation Committee has accomplished a lot in its first 18 months of life, but now it’s turning to the public to figure out what it should tackle next.

This week, the committee has posted a survey online, asking South Portland residents to weigh in on what its goals should be.

“It’s really opened ended,” said committee chairman Jessica Skwire Routhier. “It basically just asks people what they think our short-term goals should be, say for the next year or so, and then what we should pursue as our long-term goals, for the next five to 10 years.”

“One of my first suggestions when I joined the committee was that we should do an online survey,” said group member Adrian Dowling. “We're a brand new committee, so it's important for us to get some initial ideas about historic properties or landmarks the community is concerned about, what kinds of public art they'd like to see, and what they think our priorities should be.”

The arts and historic preservation commission was the brainchild of former assistant city manager Jon Jennings, now the top man across the river at Portland City Hall. At the time, Jennings was working on plans to bring an outdoor concert venue near Bug Light Park, and wanted a citizen’s advisory committee to help advise on that and other arts-related projects throughout the city.

At the same time, Greater Portland Landmarks took the step of putting the entire city of South Portland on its annual “Places in Peril list.”

The reason for that move, Landmarks Executive Director Hilary Bassett said at the time, was because while South Portland was known to possess a vast mix of architectural styles and features, as distinct neighborhoods and villages sprouted and grew over time, no survey of homes existed to document what remained, and no rules were in place to protect the more historic sites.

Jennings’ solution was to kill two problems with a single committee, creating the nine-member arts and historic preservation group to both promote and protect the arts and culture of South Portland, including its architecture.

In addition to seven residents, membership includes South Portland Historical Society (its executive director Kathryn DiPhilippo) and one from Greater Portland Landmarks (Jane Batzell).

Since its founding, the arts committee has helped the historical society and Greater Portland Landmarks conduct a three-month survey of buildings in the Willard Beach area, using am $8,000 grant from the Horizon Foundation of Portland.

“As a result of this work, we now have the data and photographs of every single building from the survey at the South Portland Historical Society,” DiPhilippo said. “All of it will be cataloged and made available to the public on our Past Perfect museum software.”

But for Routhier, her proudest moment to date has been the work the committee did lobbying for the new look of the South Portland armory, as it gets redeveloped into a gas station and convenience store.

“We are only an advisory group, we don’t have the power to change anything ourselves, so I’m very happy the planning board, and more importantly, the developer listened to our input,” she said.

That testimony, given at numerous hearings and neighborhood meetings, resulted in proposed signs being removed from the face of the armory “head house” — the front façade of the building to be retained — in order to keep the focus on its art deco design, and an agreement to move a pylon sign to go out front and off to one side, to preserve sightlines to the building.

The arts committee has also weighed in on development of Foulmouthed Brewery in Knightville to assure the new business fits the scale and character of the historic downtown district. It also helped plan and pull off a recent community charrette to gather public input on a proposed walking bridge to be built over the Broadway/Waterman Drive intersection at the base of the Casco Bay Bridge.

“Good design is a must-have for all these projects,” Routhier said. “It’s the one thing that really makes them ‘for’ everyone, that gives the community a feeling of pride and a sense of ownership in it, rather than have it be something that’s just there.”

Up next is the development of a strategic plan, Routhier said, keeping in mind that the committee has both an official lobbying and advisory aspect not enjoyed by the historical society, as well as a responsibility to create and maintain public art, as well as building preservation.

The South Portland Arts and Historic Preservation Committee's mission, according to the city ordinance that created it, is "to assist the city council in preserving the historical and architectural integrity of South Portland, fostering beautification of public areas, and promoting the educational, cultural, economic, aesthetic value, and general welfare of South Portland."

What exactly does that mean? One of the first things the committee did was flesh out its charge with a “vision statement.”

Among the directives the committee members agreed to, they decided:

 “We will be on the forefront of major planning initiatives and will make recommendations to help advance art, design and architecture in the city.

 “We will be stewards of and advocates for existing cultural assets in the city.

 “We will promote arts and preservation projects that are meaningful, broadly appealing and enhance the history and unique identity of our community.

 “We will promote the arts and preservation as essential to our local quality of life through educational and advocacy initiatives. And,

 “We will respect the value that this community has historically placed on hard work by acting in a fiscally responsible way that benefits the community at large.”

Now, the committee hopes the public will have its say, providing direction on what specific projects they would like to it tackle.

“That input will be very valuable to our work and will most likely decide what we pursue for the next several years,” Routhier said. “So, we are really hoping for a good response.”

In addition to DiPhilippo and Batzell, residents serving on the committee include Routhier, as chairman (term expires in October) and Dowling (also October), as well as Rob Schreiber (October 2018), Amanda Larson (October 2017), Aimee Turner (October 2017), and Scott Whitaker (October 2017), Routher and Schreiber live in District 1, Larson and Turner in District 2, Whitaker in District 3, and Dowling in Distirct 5.

There is one vacancy on the committee, with a term to expire in October 2018. According to City Clerk Emily Carrington, candidates for the post can live anywhere in the city, although the actual nomination for appointment must be made by Councilor Patti Smith. Anyone interested in filling the vacancy should fill out the committee volunteer application found on the city website.

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