MEXICO – The arts and industry are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the River Valley is full of artists and writers, photographers and historians, along with many cultures.

Becky Welsh knows there are at least 120 creative people in the valley’s 10 towns, and now she’s looking for more.

As the community arts coordinator, Welsh plans to develop a directory of artistic, creative people for distribution around the state. The money for her position comes from the Maine Arts Commission.

She’s identified the first 120 by word of mouth. A community arts forum set for May 22 is bound to reveal even more, she believes.

The forum will be 4 to 7:30 p.m. at Mountain Valley Middle School. Everyone is invited to come and give input.

“We want to bring the community together to talk about what arts and culture means to the community and what the community would like in the way of art and culture,” she said.

She also hopes the forum will show what the arts and culture can offer to young people as a way of avoiding negative behavior.

A survey has been developed to help create a direction for the importance of artistic and cultural resources in the community. Those attending the forum will receive a copy. Others will be able to pick one up at various places in the area such as town offices and libraries. The surveys should be returned to the River Valley Healthy Communities Coalition by June 16 when Welsh will begin compiling data and making follow-up calls. The goal is to have a River Valley arts and cultural resource directory in place by 2004.

The forum will also gauge interest in forming an arts alliance and try to determine whether business would gain from a wider awareness of cultural tourism.

The project is important to the River Valley area, said Welsh.

“It has the potential to be a huge shot in the arm for the River Valley image and its self-esteem,” she said.

When she first starting discussing an art directory project, she said, some first reactions were that the River Valley didn’t have any art.

“I started disputing them on that,” she said, by naming historical societies, artists and musicians. “We have adopted a broad definition of culture to include ethnic heritage and occupational arts such as stone and gem cutters, among many others. We want to document them. We want people to know what these people do,”

Carol Rickards, an artist from Peru, has been helping with the project. In doing arts and crafts fairs around the state, she has found a huge amount of interest in the fine arts right in the River Valley, she said.

“Of all the shows all over the state, I’ve done the best in the Rumford/Bethel area,” she said. “(This project) will raise the consciousness of the arts. A lot of people are down on such things until they take part.”

Welsh envisions that someday, an arts cooperative gallery will be open to the public in a visible place somewhere in the River Valley, perhaps on Congress Street in Rumford.

“It makes a huge difference to be in a place where there is art,” she said.

But for right now, it’s getting people together that is important to begin the documentation of what is here and the direction the arts community may take.

The forum is open to everyone. A light lunch will be served midway through the forum. Those planning on attending the lunch should contact Welsh at 364-7408.

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