RUMFORD – The Western Oxford Foothills Cultural Council held its first annual meeting as a certified nonprofit on March 16. The council’s mission is to support cultural activity in all its forms, which was reflected in the varied nature of participants and presentations.

The meeting had many purposes, said executive director Toni Seger. “We brought together community leaders from all over western Maine who are active in the creative economy, but weren’t aware of each other.”

Becky Welsh of River Valley Healthy Communities talked about the positive effect of Pennacook Gallery on Rumford’s downtown and how its success is transforming the appearance and attitudes of Rumford residents.

“Two new restaurants have opened because of the gallery and, more importantly, people in Rumford have discovered there are talented artists living among them. It’s really given us a new sense of pride,” she said.

Henry Hamilton, manager of the Maine Wildlife Park, Route 26, Gray, talked about developing a wildlife gallery at the park this summer. “We had over 112,000 people visit the park last year. No conventional gallery could ever achieve that traffic. Here’s an opportunity to offer something new at the park and, at the same time, draw people into art who would never encounter it, otherwise,” Hamilton said.

Lowering barriers to art is part of another project in process organized by Pat Chandler, an artist and arts educator living in Norway. “We’re calling it a gallery without walls,” said Chandler, who wants to identify artists and pair them with community locations such as banks and businesses where art could be displayed for sale. Seger is preparing a grant to submit to the Maine Arts Commission in support of the idea.

Chandler also described a new and inexpensive opportunity for artists’ studios at the Blake House, the original parsonage of the Unitarian Universalist Church, Main Street, Norway. Chandler conducts art classes there and has arranged for other studios as well as space for art therapy. For more information, call 743-8033.

Lucia Colombaro and Robin Zinchuk of the Bethel Chamber of Commerce also attended. Colombaro has been organizing a cultural conference in SAD 44, inspired by the Blaine House Conference on the Creative Economy.

“We want to market our area to cultural tourists. This conference will help our creative resources identify the important role they’re playing and how it benefits our economy.” The conference is scheduled for Saturday, April 23, at Telstar Regional High School. Contact Colombaro at 665-2111.

The arts as a driving force in restoration and downtown revitalization was described by Mari Hook, executive director of the Denmark Arts Center. The center has an eclectic mixture of events for adults and children ranging from chamber music to puppet shows as well as two artists-in-residence.

On Saturday, April 16, the center will celebrate the 11th year of its sheepfest organized by Linda Whiting featuring demonstrations of spinning and weaving. For more information, visit

“The sheepfest represents a direct connection between agriculture and the creative economy,” said Seger. “Fiber farms are on the rise due to the expanding needs of fiber artists. That’s why there’s a new fiber center at the Fryeburg Fair.”

Mark Hews of Threshold to Maine, which sponsors Open Farm Day and the Maine Roots Festival, spoke about the culture of agriculture and its importance.

Seger showed prototype pages from a developing cultural map that will cover 24 towns in western Maine with historical walking tours and a driving map listing museums, theaters, farms, cultural accommodations, crafts, galleries and historical sites.

“We have a very active creative economy in western Maine,” said Seger. “This meeting was proof of that.”

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