Bethel gets state grant to help economy

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BETHEL – The governor has sent $10,000 to Bethel’s creative economy program to fund a second year of classes by fine artists, holistic healers and craftspeople.

Matched locally by SAD 44 adult education funding, the money will cover a staff position to develop the second-year program and possibly expand it, said Lucia Colombara, who works for the creative economy initiative.

“The No. 1 one concept behind the creative economic education initiative was to give an alternative income source to our base of creative workers in the area,” Colombara said. “Instead of paying them a traditional adult ed stipend, they were able to set their own tuition.”

Since last September, 34 local artists, crafters, digital media professionals and holistic health practitioners have offered courses through the creative economy program. Over 300 community members have attended these classes, all on topics not offered before.

Bethel is now being used as a case study in a creative economy handbook by the Department of Economic and Community Development, due out next fall.

Second year programming will be developed this summer. Potential teachers will be recruited and enrolled.

Bethel’s creative economy education initiative came out of a conference held in town last year, which was spurred by a statewide push to develop a creative economy in Maine.

A creative economy seeks to forge links between art, culture, commerce and community to boost people working in the arts.

Robin Zinchuk, head of Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce, said Wednesday that the organizations involved in the local creative economy – the chamber, Mahoosuc Arts Council, and SAD 44 Adult and Community Education – alerted the governor’s office about their activities. “We were fairly intentional in approaching the governor … and he has been supportive of creative economies around the state.”

In a news release, Gov. John Baldacci said Bethel’s model has inspired Houlton, which is looking into developing a similar program.

“There’s a real commitment to finding practical ways to support the really organic development of people who are here,” Colombara said. “There’s such an incredible base of talented artists here and they are an undeveloped part of our economy.”

“From a community organizer perspective, it makes all the difference to have the state see the value and offer support and encouragement to a local initiative. This dialogue between the state and local communities about a shared vision for our economic future is a success story in what government should be: a stimulus for action at the local level.”

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