From the desk of Odelle Bowman, Executive Director of L/A Arts.

March 23rd, 2012
Last week, Mayor LaBonte wrote a piece in his “Thoughts From the Mayor” section of the Twin City Times that requires a little clarification about L/A Arts and our impact on the cities of Lewiston and Auburn. Unfortunately, Mayor LaBonte did not wait for the due date for responses from the City Council, March 14th at 3:00PM, before writing his remarks and therefore much misinformation has been presented.

There are many organizations providing arts programming but none that offer the diversity of initiatives meant to support the arts and the community across a wide array of disciplines as L/A Arts; such is the role of an arts agency. Additionally, we lend support and are strong collaborative partners to many arts and cultural organizations in the community and have done so for 38 years.

Mayor LaBonte suggested that L/A Arts is not the designated arts agency for both the cities of Lewiston and Auburn. When the Joint Agency Budget Review Committee asked for documentation supporting this designation, I provided documentation from The National Endowment for the Arts, and support material from The Maine Arts Commission. The implication that any arts organization would knowingly deceive their community for 17 years by giving themselves a false designation, and that the Maine Arts Commission would be complicit in this, is ludicrous; to what end, to what gain? The organization was already receiving municipal support for the same work they had been doing for years.

The second point that Mayor LaBonte makes that I find most misleading is his “Request in writing that each city be afforded a seat on [L/A Arts] board of directors.” Now this is interesting and warrants a little bit of explaining. On January 17th he sent an email to the L/A Arts Board Chair in which he made it very clear that he had recommendations, “You both know the limited role of a Mayor, so you may choose to take my recommendations with a grain of salt”. In this email LaBonte expresses his desire for L/A Arts to change the bylaws to exclude the ability for the school departments and libraries to appoint board members and in their places allow the city mayors to make such appointments. After two more increasingly insistent emails and phone calls, Mayor LaBonte wrote a final email on February 2nd withdrawing his recommendations. Most organizations don’t make drastic changes to their constitutional documents based upon the recommendation of a single person and with such swiftness. We have never received a formal written request from either city which outlined the role of a councilor on our board, or the necessity of this to continue our funding; apparently there is nothing in either cities charter requiring this. L/A Arts was unaware that the other organizations, interlocal agencies, had councilors on their boards until we were sitting in our review meeting. Are councilors to be voting members, part of the working board? What specifically would their role be? Would they dictate to us what kind of programming we needed to provide in order to retain our funding? We have many questions that have been given to the both cities and which remain unanswered at this time.

Mayor Labonte states that all we do is Arts in Education and afterschool programming. While we are very proud of these programs and their importance to our community, that is hardly all we do. We have a Mainstage Performance series dedicated to bringing a variety of high quality performance presentations to the community that enhance our lives and the perception of Lewiston outside our community (this weekend’s performance of “Piano Men” was sold out and the Franco was rockin!). We are part of the Artwalk Lewiston/Auburn, we bring you the “Sounds of Summer’ free music concerts, the Community Gallery supports emerging artists of all ages, we partner with the Lewiston Auburn Film Festival, we helped to bring you this year’s Festival of Arts and Lights, we partnered with the International Exchange Club to bring you the Halloween Window Painting Contest, we are partnering with the library to develop a monthly literary series, we are working on several funding sources to evaluate our cultural assets and much , much more-exactly what a local arts agency is charged with doing.

The last point I would like to call attention to is that Auburn’s Mayor suggested that the cities of Lewiston and Auburn should reallocate the funding that currently goes to L/A Arts and form a joint events box office for all local arts and performance groups. I put in calls to many of these arts groups and found that there is little to no support for this concept with a majority of these groups, the primary reason being that we are a community and everything is built on relationships; patrons like to know who they are talking to. I put in a call to Portix (in Portland) and the preliminary estimates far exceed (almost double) the amount of money he is proposing the cities allocate. What would a ticket agency do to enrich and strengthen the community? The loss of $40,000 would be devastating to us as an organization and the staffing support these funds provide. We leverage every dollar given to us by the cities 5 times, in grants received, sponsorships, and donations to provide programming and services to our community.

How are we to prosper as a community if the public discourse by those who purport to love this community, to want to see it grow, is contentious in nature and at times ill-mannered at best? We all must seek to operate from a place of true collaboration and understanding if our future is to be a positive one. This requires everyone to be treated with respect and to create an atmosphere where all are aspiring to work together, a community in which no one seeks to tear others down for their own agendas. That is a community I wish to live in a community that people would move here to be a part of.

Odelle Bowman
Executive Director L/A Arts