The Eastport Arts Center (EAC) is the third Eastport entity in three years to receive recognition at the annual Governor's Conference on Tourism. The arts organization was selected to receive the 2013 Maine Tourism Award for Innovation and Creativity for its role in positioning Maine's smallest city as a regional destination and for enhancing the tourism infrastructure in the Downeast and Acadia region. EAC Director Chris Grannis, founding board member Joyce Weber and board member Marged Higginson attended the conference and accepted the award on January 31.
Eastport downtown business The Commons was recognized with an award in 2011, and in 2012 the Tides Institute & Museum of Art (TIMA) was recognized. TIMA Director Hugh French says, "It's nice to hear that the Eastport Arts Center has been recognized by an award at the Maine Governor's Conference on Tourism this year. Eastport has been increasingly recognized for its creative economy efforts, not only within the arts but also within other sectors, and not only at the state level but at the national level as well."
In 1985, a group of eight artists started a gallery in Eastport. From that spark, the EAC was created in 1990 and it now encompasses the gallery, a theater, a strings group, an orchestra, a film society, a concert series and educational programs. Higginson notes that, since those early days, 17 other galleries, including The Commons, are listed in the city and, with The Tides Institute & Museum of Art, truly form a critical mass for the creative economy. She adds, "We've got history and the arts." Linda Godfrey, a partner in The Commons, says, "All of this adds to the quality of life in Eastport, our economic future and reasons why so many full-time residents love living here and visitors love coming here."
Tourism is the largest economic engine in the state. The conference explored just what that means to communities and why a place like Eastport has received so many awards. Originality and the people‑to‑people connections are what visitors and friends of residents most enjoy when they visit Maine. "In this city you meet every artist," not to mention the councillors and the police chief, the tugboat pilot and the scallop fisherman, the librarian and the poet laureate, the fire chief and the EMT, and everyone else who brings a community to life, Higginson explains. "It's not like going to a big city."
"The Eastport Arts Center is honored to have received the Maine Tourism Association's 2013 award," says Weber. "It is an acknowledgement of our role in helping Maine's smallest city become a regional destination for tourists who are searching for a travel destination that will provide an art and culture experience. The arts center in turn would like to acknowledge the many, many Washington County artists and arts supporters who have worked so hard and contributed so much through the years to the development of the arts center and the arts in Eastport."
Godfrey points out, "The EAC is such a valuable part of Eastport, with its year-round cultural offerings, its inclusion of youth to elder programming and its overwhelming collection of talented people." She adds, "The rest of Maine has to be wondering, 'What is going on in Eastport and how quickly can we arrange a visit to see it all for ourselves?'"
Higginson adds that when she was driving to a tourism meeting the following morning she heard the popular MPBN host and opera singer Suzanne Nance, who had been at the conference, not only congratulate the EAC for its award, but read its mission statement, note all the constituent programs and urge her listeners to visit the island city. "To hear her say it was 'well deserved' was music to my ears."