The Maine State Museum and the exhibition “Maine+Jewish: 200 Years”
“Maine+Jewish: 200 Years” is a first-of-its-kind exhibition for the Maine State Museum. The exhibition will use more than 150 artifacts alongside historic and contemporary photographs, artwork by Maine artists, video, and interactive displays to tell the story of two centuries of Jewish community in Maine. While Maine State Museum staff has organized large-scale exhibitions on subjects ranging from “Malaga Island, Fragmented Lives” to “Maine Voices from the Civil War,” this is the first exhibition they’ve mounted that focuses on a single Maine community and studies the history, present, and future of a living community in Maine. It is also the largest (2,000 sq. ft.) public exhibition on Maine Jewry ever presented. The planning process also is new to the Museum as it involves a guest curator, a community advisory group, student-designed pop-up exhibitions, and input from community conversations throughout the state. In spring 2016, the Sam L. Cohen Foundation made a grant of $40,000 (paid over two years) to support the research and development of the exhibition.
Since the 2016 grant, Guest Curator Dr. Amy Waterman has travelled throughout Maine locating unusual historic pieces as well as works by artists living in Maine. Visitors will be introduced to the exhibition by entering a modern interpretation of a full-sized sukkah designed and installed by artist Asherah Cinnamon. The exhibition will be divided into various themes such as immigration, life cycle events, work and work life, community, and philanthropy. Themes are illustrated by a wide variety of artifacts including traditional elements, like the Havdalah spice box from Etz Chaim Congregation, Biddeford, in contrast with more whimsical ones, such as the mid-century Purim noisemaker decorated with Halloween illustrations or a moose menorah on loan from Angus King and Mary Herman, as well as somber subjects in photographs by Judith Glickman Lauder. Visitors can interact with artist Jo Israelson’s piece “Sarah’s Generosity” which features hand-printed aprons with pockets that hold information about the Jewish women on House Island who welcomed immigrants to Maine. The centerpiece of the “life cycle events” section is a Torah ark from Temple Beth Israel, Lewiston which was disassembled onsite at the synagogue and will be re-built in a special alcove of the exhibition.
This exhibition is a truly unique and transformational one for the Maine State Museum. Some of the objects in the exhibition are lent by historical societies and synagogues, but many come from individual Maine families. In several instances, those loans have been converted into gifts to the Maine State Museum’s collection which helps the Museum build a strong permanent collection related to Maine’s Jewish history. The exhibition has an accompanying online curriculum for Maine schools and a 40-page exhibition catalogue. Both will be available during the exhibition and after it closes. “Maine+Jewish: 200 Years” opens on September 14, 2018 and will be on view for 18 months. Maine State Museum staff estimate that of the 75,000 visitors to the exhibition, 30,000 will visit on school tours and through education programs.
Engine in Biddeford
Engine is a small arts organization that has had a big impact on downtown Biddeford. Engine’s mission is to promote art and design as an engine for economic development. For its first two years, Engine operated without a home base with founder Tammy Ackerman installing temporary exhibitions in vacant spaces in the North Dam Mill, facilitating artist gatherings, and coordinating the monthly Biddeford Artwalk. In 2010, Engine and a consortium of Biddeford redevelopment organizations received the first Creative Communities Economic Development grant from the Maine Arts Commission, and Engine secured a physical location on Main St. in Biddeford. Engine stages ten visual arts exhibitions annually and hosts weekly large and small scale public events ranging from art parties and film festivals to concerts and community dinners. Director Tammy Ackerman is a regular member of city planning committees, Biddeford School committees, and small business work groups. Engine has become a magnet for designers, artists, and entrepreneurs looking to capitalize on Biddeford’s affordability and the potential of a rejuvenated Main St.
In spring 2016, the Sam L. Cohen Foundation made a grant of $12,500 to strengthen Engine’s work with Biddeford youth. At the time of the grant, Engine had a strong slate of programs for adults, but felt they weren’t reaching their potential with younger audiences. During the grant period, Engine hired its first Education Coordinator and reached out to Biddeford Schools to collaborate in bringing more kids to Engine’s downtown studios. The resulting programs include a year-long illustration studio class and a multi-part computer animation class for Biddeford Middle and High School students taught by professional illustrators and animators, as well as sold-out school vacation week “Maker’s Camps” taught by students in the Maine College of Art’s MAT program, and regular drop-in hours in Engine’s “FabLab” where Biddeford High School students help younger kids use computers for graphic design, animation, and 3-D design using the “FabLab” 3-D printers. With Engine’s focus on arts and entrepreneurs, they created the “Makers & Marketers Club” where, with the help of a community mentor, students tackle and execute the design process from commission to client approval to market placement. The new logo for the City of Biddeford’s “Age-Friendly Biddeford” campaign was designed by a student in Engine’s “Makers & Marketers Club.” Biddeford Middle School enlisted the club to create a video to educate parents about the school’s new project-based curriculum. With support from the Sam L. Cohen Foundation, Engine is applying the same entrepreneurial approach to its youth programming that it brings to its community development efforts.
While Engine is expanding youth programs, the organization continues work on a major restoration project for a future home—the Marble Block Building. In 2010, while researching viable storefronts, Engine developed a relationship with Bob and Mary Kate Reny, whose family trust still owned a vacant 18,000 square foot white marble-face building on lower Main St. The Renys sold the vacant building – referred to as the Marble Block – to Engine for $1 in 2011, in support of Engine’s mission to create a space for the arts on Main Street. Seven years later, Engine has received grants from the EPA ($400,000) the Southern Maine Planning/Development Commission ($200,000), the Quimby Family Foundation, the Maine Community Foundation, and others to restore the building. Engine recently received a $25,000 economic development grant to work on a business plan that would incorporate York County Community College activities into the Marble Block Building, and the Engine board is working with a consultant on a feasibility study for a capital campaign. Plans include expanded exhibition space, a rooftop garden to supply an on-site café, and improved space for the youth programs were seeded with the 2016 Sam L. Cohen Foundation grant.
Since 2001, Cultivating Community has used local, healthy gardening projects to strengthen neighborhoods, entice Portland youth to be more involved in their city, and assist farmers with sustainable growing practices. CC’s original program provided garden-based education and nutrition education to schools throughout southern Maine, including five Title I elementary schools. Programs that followed include: a teen gardener program that now delivers annually more than 2,000 pounds of vegetables to low-income seniors and others needing food assistance; a network of farm stands accessible to people of all incomes by facilitating SNAP and WIC access at the stands; a mobile farm stand, the Grow Cart, that sets up shop in low-income communities. Cultivating Community’s New American Sustainable Agriculture Project (NASAP) helps immigrant and refugee farmers build successful farm businesses. In spring of 2015, CC opened Portland’s first major rooftop garden on the roof of a downtown affordable housing building. The Sam L. Cohen Foundation was an early supporter of Cultivating Community’s efforts, and the most recent grant in Spring 2017 has already yielded strong results.
In 2017, Cultivating Community (CC) used a $15,000 grant from the Foundation to launch an initiative that makes the city’s community gardens accessible to low-income residents. Cultivating Community saw the community gardens as a potential resource for low-income Portland residents to have healthy, affordable, home-grown food and to introduce them to fellow gardeners in their neighborhoods. Working with the city, CC established two new gardens—one in Libbytown and the other in East Bayside’s Kennedy Park. To advertise the new program and the new garden plots, CC harnessed the energy of students in the Youth Leaders program and tasked the teens with spreading the word in their home neighborhoods. Since many of the students are multi-lingual, they were able to explain the opportunity to adults with limited English, going door-to-door describing the benefits of home-grown produce. During the marketing effort, teens knocked on 200 doors of low-income households and hosted 22 community-building events. CC collaborated with Wayside Food Program (a SLCF grantee) and others for Pop-Up Picnics at the gardens with music, gardening education, and activities for kids. While CC is only half-way through the grant year, the Foundation’s $15,000 investment in the program has already seen significant returns in the community.
Cultivating Community set a goal for the project that in two years 25% of the community gardeners would self-identify as low-income, and the program met that goal in its first eight months. The gardens now have room for 546 gardeners—46 more than last year, and because of the added plots, wait-time to participate has been reduced from four seasons in 2013 to one season in 2016. Cultivating Community was able to use the $15,000 grant from the Foundation to leverage funds from other foundations to create a scholarship pool for families who cannot afford the fee for a garden plot. As a result, the number of community gardeners who participated in 2017 and who self-identified as low-income by applying for a plot fee scholarship increased to more than 100. Only ten households received fee plot scholarships in 2013. The program will build on its 2017 success as Cultivating Community explores new ways to engage more Portland families in programs and projects that promote and provide healthy, home-grown produce.
Early Literacy and the Sam L. Cohen Children’s Library at the Portland Public Library
The Portland Public Library has a strong (and long) tradition of engaging children and families through books, programs, and services designed to educate and entertain. The Library celebrated its 150th birthday in 2017. Since 2010 when the Portland Public Library (PPL), opened its renovated downtown building with the support of a $300,000 foundation-initiated grant, the Library has intensified efforts to reach its youngest patrons. The renovations included the opening of the Sam L. Cohen Children’s Library which hosts as many as 20 programs each month for children and their families. Programs in the Sam L. Cohen Children’s Library range from story-hours and sing-a-longs to the popular “Come! Sit! Read!” with PPL’s Reading Dogs the “Smart Girls Read” book group, “Family Science Backpacks” to borrow, and “Eat Your Words” workshops combining children’s books and recipes.
In 2015 the Library used a $26,000 responsive grant from the Foundation to formalize and assess a slate of programs offered at the Sam L. Cohen Children’s Library. The grant supported programs for children 0-5 in five critical early literacy practices: talking, singing, reading, writing, and playing. The grant also allowed Library staff to create a more structured approach to PPL's Summer Reading program for children ages 5-12. The Summer Reading program works to reduce the notorious "summer slide" in reading skills and keep children on track with reading at grade level. PPL measured outcomes as well as program attendance, using a program evaluation method developed for public libraries, and they saw a strong response to their surveys. Participating parents reported significant increases in frequency of time their kids spent reading (82%) as well as increased confidence in reading (89%) among other positive outcomes.
While the assessment of the PPL program was strong, the grant to the Library had additional positive effects. The Library was able to use the assessment to demonstrate the effectiveness of PPL’s Summer Reading program to other organizations (many of which are SLCF grantees) and help those organizations replicate the Library’s approach for their students. For example, two important community players, The Portland Public Schools and the Boys and Girls Clubs, have adopted the PPL’s model for Summer Reading. The 2015 grant also increased visibility of the Library’s Pre-K programs, and the Early Literacy Librarian in the Sam L. Cohen Children’s Library now provides training to teachers at the Opportunity Alliance’s Public Pre-K and to Head Start teachers. And the Library’s Director, Sarah Campbell, represents PPL at Portland ConnectEd. In 2018 the ripple effects of that 2015 responsive grant continue as the Library will work with the Portland Schools and Boys and Girls Clubs to launch the “Card for Every Student” initiative.