ArtPlace spoke with Hugh French, Director of the Tides Institute and Museum of Art about difficulties that the organization has encountered during the development of its Artsipelago initiative funded by ArtPlace.
ArtPlace: What has been the thorniest issue you’ve faced to date? How have you dealt with it?
HF: By far the thorniest issue we’ve faced to date has been the potential loss of $250,000 in state funding through the Communities’ for Maine’s Futures (CFMF) bond program. It was a critical funding piece for a very central component of our ArtPlace project – the purchase and redevelopment of a severely damaged historic building in downtown Eastport into a StudioWorks facility and accompanying artist residency program. This CFMF bond was approved by state voters in 2010. We applied for funding in 2011 and we the only successful applicant in all of eastern and northern Maine. In June, 2012 the Governor of Maine froze all bond funding including ours within the CFMF program even though this program was already rolling. Eleven CFMF communities in the state were affected. Earlier in the spring of 2012, I had a sense that something like this might happen. In late May, I had our masonry crew scaffold our main building that was also slated for continued restoration work and was part of a broader restoration effort that included the StudioWorks facility. Also in May I made an initial draw down of $60,000 in bond funding to cover initial restoration expenses on both buildings. I also quickly finalized and signed a major restoration contract on our main building.
When the Governor’s freeze happened, I immediately started calling state officials: the state senate president who happened to be from Eastport, the Governor’s senior economic development staff, the state office of community development that administered the CFMF program. Eventually, the state decided to review the 11 affected CFMF communities on a case by case basis. We were asked to submit photographs showing work progress to date and to provide details on that work progress.. I was able to submit a stunning photograph of our scaffolded main building. We were able to show an initial drawdown of CFMF funds and a signed contract for future work. This was sufficient. Three of the affected CFMF communities, including Eastport, were provided temporary substitute federal Community Development Block Grant funds by the state to complete their projects. While this was not an ideal solution, it has allowed us keep our building projects moving. The continued restoration work on our main building was completed in mid-December. The foundation work on the StuidoWorks building was completed the end of December. Major interior reframing of the StudioWorks building will begin in early January.
You have to be very pro-active when these sorts of crises develop. Ideally, you have to anticipate these sort crises which will allow you to put yourself in a better position to handle the crisis when it arrives. We were very fortunate.
PHOTO: Interior of the Holmes building tin downtown Eastport that is undergoing redevelopment into a StudioWorks facility combined with an an artist residency program.