Creative Placemaking in Portland, Maine


Marty Pottenger is a playwright, performance artist, and director of Terra Moto, Inc., a multidisciplinary nonprofit arts organization. In 2003, Pottenger established ART AT WORK, a creative placemaking initiative that aims to “improve municipal government through strategic arts projects with municipal employees, elected officials, and local artists”. At a time when creative placemaking is gaining traction with various civic disciplines, Pottenger’s track record of work with various municipal departments and nonprofit groups within Portland, Maine demonstrates how arts and culture is a viable strategy for improving public understanding and participation in government.

Art at Work: Hearts, Minds, and Homes
Terra Moto Initiative


Pottenger’s partnership with the City of Portland started with an invitation by an arts organization in Portland to present Home Land Security, a performance art project in 2005. The National Endowment for the Arts and federal and private foundation resources funded the project. The performance was organized in the aftermath of a surprise raid of immigrant and refugees by Border Patrol, which left many immigrants and refugees fearful and hesitant to leave their homes and access basic social services. The performance project included a community-building element with immigrants, refugees, community leaders, and staff with enforcement agencies. The positive impact of the project on government and community relations led to the City Manager agreeing to put Pottenger on staff with the city. The availability of private funding and support from the City Manager enabled the production of 11 additional creative placemaking projects in Portland over the term of her residency from 2005 to 2015.


Art at Work, Creative Portland, the City of Portland and various departments and offices including the Police Department, Public Services, Health and Human Services, the Housing Authority, the Fire Department, and Emergency Medical Services.


ART AT WORK, City of Portland, National Endowment for the Arts, other private foundations. The City provided health insurance and administrative resources; Pottenger also raised significant additional resources from private foundations.


Pottenger’s creative placemaking project approach can be distilled as a nine-part process:

  1. Documentation and evaluation
  2. Identification of a partnering municipal department
  3. Defining of key issues and opportunities
  4. Selection of the artist(s)
  5. Convening of a support team
  6. Setting of goals and objectives
  7. Designing of the project(s) and affiliated community dialogues
  8. Beginning art making working
  9. Publishing, printing, performing and/or exhibition the works

Below are profiles of Pottenger’s creative placemaking process through two projects that advanced equity and social cohesion goals.

Forest City Times. In 2010, the Chief of the Portland Police Department reached out to Pottenger after an armed confrontation resulted in the death of a Sudanese man. The circumstances surrounding his death and the handling of his body created animosity between youth of color and police and city workers and tension between youth and city staff were escalating, with youth throwing objects at city staff. The Police Chief expressed interest in an arts intervention to reduce tensions and asked if she would write and produce a play. Pottenger worked with local arts organization Maine Inside Out to implement the Forest City Times project, which produced two original performances involving police officers and a group of youth from Portland High School. None of the individuals involved had theatre experience. Pottenger negotiated the selection of police officers to include a mix of those open and less open to participation. The workshops that led to the development of the performances helped open lines of communication on relations between police and immigrants and refugees. Each performance evening ended with a facilitated dialogue between performers and the audience. Data on the months following the production showed a reduction in reports of youth and police conflict and police reported more positive engagements with young people. (Art at Work, 2016)

Portland Works. In 2011, community partners were documenting many instances of racial discrimination, and there were also documented discrimination issues between municipal staff. Pottenger commenced the Portland Works project, which aimed to decrease tensions within and between immigrant/refugee communities and city departments and establish a process for communication and relationship building between municipal and community leaders. The project engaged city councilors, the Police Department, Public Services, Health and Human Services, the Housing Authority, the Fire Department and EMS workers, union, and community leaders including the leader of Occupy Maine. Monthly meetings were convened where there was facilitated discussion on civic and social tensions combined with art making, which led to the creation of temporary and permanent art in the form of poetry, benches, murals, painted light poles, and other temporary and permanent projects. (Art at Work, 2016)


During her residency, Pottenger executed 11 creative placemaking projects dealing with civic issues including immigrant and refugee integration, gentrification and homelessness, violence, and public safety. Pottenger’s work has created the space for government to advance social equity in a creative, personal, and effective way. The arts, according to Pottenger (2012), “dramatically increases our ability to access our flexible intelligence, function collaboratively, analyze complex challenges, integrate contradictory perspectives, envision a positive outcome and take inspired risks that lead to innovative solutions.


Portland’s Latest Projects. ART AT WORK. (2016)