Issue 20, Does Art Matter?

by Teresa Piccari
It sure seems to matter in Rockland, Maine. As visitors made their way among the city’s 20 art galleries during last week’s Art Walk, they were greeted by a new mural being painted on a building along School Street. A sign of our times.
At each Art Walk, the public can visit both the Farnsworth Art Museum, which is running special programming all year to mark Andrew Wyeth at 100 and The Center for Maine Contemporary Art (CMCA), which just celebrated its first anniversary after relocating from Rockport– for free.
In addition to paid programming at the city’s art anchors, there are free or moderate priced events. CMCA continues to offer free family-friendly, Art Labs on several Saturdays. In September, there will be a 3-day festival of 35 art events at the Millay House, birthplace of the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, on Broadway.
And who could miss the new banners along Main Street announcing I Heart Rockland the Arts Capital of Maine? Something is in the air for sure. Pop into Rock City Café on any given day and you will observe regular folks enjoying coffee and making art. Not as common at cafes in neighboring towns.
Art seeds are quietly being planted in elementary schools in RSU #13 by Leaps of Imagination, begun in 2014 by founding director Nancy Frohlich, who has a team of five local 300-208 teaching artists. “All of my work is anchored by the idea that art matters and that art enhances thinking,” said Frohlich, who spent 40 years as an educator, as both an elementary teacher and principal in Boston.
“Research has confirmed that artists 300-206 and scientists have a similar thinking process,” she said. Kids are making hypotheses, making inferences, learning observation skills, and applying skills from other domains, noted Frohlich.
“It’s so critical for kids to have enough time in school to experiment, try out new ideas, to fail, to recover from failure, to believe there are multiple solutions to problems, and to create something new that didn’t exist before,” said Frohlich.
It was Susan Beebe, a local artist and part of the Leaps team, who helped inspire the creation of Leaps of Imagination when she told Frohlich that Rockland could use someone like her.
But is it wise to invest so much in art, in a rural and historically economically challenged area like Rockland? Does it create jobs? Can people sustain a living from making art, especially new graduates entering the local workforce?
Asked about the money part of art, Beebe said, “I don’t make a living from my art. Very few people do. It is a struggle but it is a good struggle.” Most artists have to do something else, she said, but the key is finding work that is not totally draining, so there is still time and energy for art.
“I couldn’t live without being an artist. It is just a way to deal with the world. Sometimes I use it to protest and other times to celebrate the beauty of the world.”
In terms of economic impact, Beebe noted, Rockland has become an arts destination for people who visit and has made more people want to live here.
Frohlich has no doubt about 300-070 the impact of the arts locally. “The arts are responsible for the increase in the number of people you see on the street in Rockland. Even if you are not a maker, you feel connected to it and the value they bring to a society, via the galleries CISSP and museums. Art brings people together, it brings communities together,” she said.
The Rockland Metro Show will continue the discussion on Does Art Matter? on WRFR next Wednesday, from 5 to 6 pm.