LEWISTON — In a surprise move this month, the Maine Arts Commission decided not to give a $75,000 grant to L/A Arts, even though the Lewiston group was apparently the only one in Maine eligible to apply.

The money was to be a three-year matching grant to help L/A Arts move forward with its Cultural Plan, a long-term strategy to increase culture and creativity in Lewiston-Auburn.

The Maine Arts Commission had previously given L/A Arts money to help come up with that cultural plan, but the commission decided this month not to provide the follow-up grant to help implement it.

“I could almost burst into tears right now,” L/A Arts Consulting Director Louise Rosen said.

Maine Arts Commission is a taxpayer-funded state agency charged with encouraging public interest in culture. Its leaders, including the assistant director and senior grants director, declined to talk about the decision Tuesday.

Assistant Director Linda Nelson referred questions to Director Julie Richard, who is on vacation and did not return messages. Nelson said she doubted the director would have any comment because commission leaders had not yet spoken to L/A Arts about their denial of the grant. 

However, the commission did send a letter of denial to L/A Arts in mid-December. The commission refused to make a copy of that letter public, saying it should come from L/A Arts. It did make public a copy of meeting and site-visit minutes connected with L/A Arts’ grant application.

L/A Arts also refused to make the denial letter public, first saying the letter should come from the commission, then saying the commission’s minutes provided enough information.

In those minutes, grant committee members lauded the Lewiston group for bringing in partners that aren’t always easy to get, including businesses and colleges, and they lauded the community’s commitment to the cultural plan. They complimented the plan itself, calling it “impressive” for its “focused business approach and clear research.” And they were supportive of the plan’s efforts, saying “there is much good energy and creativity coming together in L-A that (we) would like to encourage and nurture.”   

But committee members were uncomfortable with L/A Arts having a consulting director on a short-term contract rather than a permanent executive director. They also repeatedly questioned how the grant money would be spent, saying L/A Arts’ budget was not clear and that “certain numbers don’t add up.”

“Certainly, there isn’t the level of solvency going into 2017 that the Committee would like to see,” the minutes said.

Committee members said L/A Arts’ efforts were “scattered” and the group’s initiative lacked priority and focus.

“It still seems like they have cherry-picked from their Cultural Plan rather than taking time to create an overall implementation process that has priorities and focus,” the minutes said.

Rosen disagreed with the comments. 

She acknowledged that she was hired in August as a short-term consulting director, but she said such a contract made sense because she could fulfill the needs of the organization while both sides got to know each other. Although her  contract is set to expire at the end of January, she said she has no plans to go anywhere.

Rosen said L/A Arts is doing “reasonably well” financially and has been awarded multiple grants this year, including $50,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts. She said L/A Arts’ budget for the Maine Arts Commission grant was “defendable” and “extremely detailed,” including more than 16 spreadsheets. She said L/A Arts would have provided more information about how to review and understand its budgets if it had been asked.

Rosen didn’t understand what committee members meant when they said L/A Arts was cherry-picking from its cultural plan. She said the group planned events and initiatives that would bring arts into the community, improve the area’s cultural offerings and boost the projects already here.

“I think we picked something we knew had a future to it,” she said.

Rosen believes L/A Arts was the only group eligible to apply for the Maine Arts Commission’ implementation grant since it was the only one given the prerequisite planning grant.

L/A Arts leaders have not yet spoken with commission leaders about the denied grant.

Rosen said L/A Arts board members are considering their options, including appealing the commission’s decision or reapplying next year.

L/A Arts is still slated to move forward with implementation but with $75,000 less than they’d expected.

“We may have to take smaller steps rather than bigger steps, which seems a shame given our sense, and certainly the sense we have had from our partners . . . that people feel the community is really ready for the impetus and the energy that the implementation grant would bring,” Rosen said.

[email protected]

CCEDII Implementation Minutes by sunjournal on Scribd

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: