By Jonathan P. LaBonte, Mayor of Auburn
In the coming weeks, the Auburn City Council will be hearing a presentation on a Cultural Plan developed by LA Arts along with partners in the network known as Arts and Culture Lewiston-Auburn. Together, along with support from both cities, they have invested in a Cultural Plan for the Twin Cities.
Now traditionally, citizens and those around government hear the word “plan” and begin to yawn, recognizing that there are bookcases full of plan after plan. The exciting part about this document is just how actionable it is.
With budgets continuing to be tight and residents squeezed with their tax bills, the words “arts and culture” may sound like frills best left to another city. What I would suggest for Auburn is that we look specifically at workforce development, investments in neighborhoods that will help attract talent to move to our city and how new businesses might choose Auburn because of those activities.
As an example, the Maine College of Art hosted an exhibition in Portland over the summer that highlighted “makers” in the Lewiston-Auburn community. A maker is a new buzz word for businesses that use creativity, innovation and manufacturing techniques to create high-value products for today’s economy. Here in Lewiston-Auburn, we are still fortunate to have
many workers skilled in stitching for shoes and other clothing products, as an example.
Linking a skilled workforce for manufacturing with the additional talents of product designers and investors is a real opportunity for our region to create new jobs and attract more residents to fill them. While we think about how we can court these innovators that will develop the new products to keep us making things in Lewiston-Auburn, it’s important to learn how other communities are acting to accomplish similar outcomes.
That’s why a couple weeks ago it was a real honor to have Lewiston-Auburn play host to the Maine International Conference on the Arts. The Maine Arts Commission coordinates this event, which brought hundreds of people together from a very wide geographic area to compare notes about programming, local investments and the economic opportunity that spins off from that.
LA Arts has been actively supporting a network of arts and cultural organizations, now known as Arts and Culture Lewiston-Auburn, for a couple of years and the events of the conference were an opportunity to showcase that, ranging from the talents of Community Little Theater and its ability to draw thousands to their shows to the Franco Center and many other venues and area businesses engaged in the arts.
In Auburn, we’ve been demonstrating the value for more than a century, going all the way back to the commissioning of a statute of Edward Little over 140 years ago. That statute, which once stood near Main Street and is now near the current Edward Little High School, was recently restored thanks to the generosity of reunion classes at ELHS. If you haven’t taken a ride by Harris Street in a while, I encourage you to go up Goff Hill and take an up close look.
Fourteen years ago, the city invested in Festival Plaza, which is now home to the Community Concert Band, ArtWalk events, dozens of community rallies annually and a host of athletic events that connect to the river access and Riverwalk trail system. Just last month, at the last ArtWalk of the year, I was joined by former mayor Lee Young to commemorate the 15th anniversary of groundbreaking for Festival Plaza by installing a plaque that explains each of the unique features that make up the plaza. Five years
ago, the city installed, with local support from LA Arts, the Art Wall along Main Street that greatly cleaned up that entrance to our downtown.
And with those projects behind us, we look ahead to efforts like the pending Hampshire Street