PARIS – The Western Oxford Foothills Cultural Council held its second annual meeting as a certified nonprofit on March 15. The council’s mission is to provide “umbrella” support for cultural activity in western Maine. A crowded agenda reflected its complex concerns.

Last fall, the council published a cultural map of 24 towns and detailed walking tours of four national historic districts. The maps are available at tourism outlets and chamber offices as well as cultural organizations.

Executive Director Toni Seger said the reaction to the map had been positive. Seger said, “The Maine Historical Society bookstore in Portland is stocking the maps and is thrilled to finally have something about western Maine on their shelves.”

An eligibility application for scenic byways designation for Route 113 from Standish to Gilead and the Route 2 connector from Gilead to Bethel is in preparation. Southern Maine Regional Planning Commission is handling the project from Fryeburg south and the council is handling the project from Fryeburg north.

The town of Fryeburg has already given the project its “enthusiastic support,” and an informational meeting about the project is being planned for Bethel in May. Maine Tourism reports almost 16,000 requests for byways information in 2005. Seger felt byways designation could draw cultural tourists to all of western Maine.

Keith Ludden, Maine Arts Commission, announced grant support for upgrading the council Web site, which will include space for an “artist’s page” to provide exposure for visual and performing artists as well as arts groups across rural western Maine.

Pat Chandler is the contact person for the project. She can be reached at 743-8033 or [email protected] Chandler said she was excited about the prospect and had already heard from interested artists who wanted to be included.

Discussion at the meeting ranged from ideas for creative partnerships to the importance of cultural activity in revitalizing a downtown. Mari Hook, executive director of the Denmark Arts Center, described the progress the community had made in creating the center, which was cited as “a model for community building.”

Melinda Edwards, manager of the Maine Made and More Store in Norway, which stocks many local craft items, said she wanted to get the Travel Channel interested in coming to Norway and she knew cultural activity interested tourists when they traveled.

Seger said the council name needed to be changed because it was misleading, and participants brainstormed numerous possibilities in the latter portion of the meeting, with the final result to be announced at a later date.

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