Photo and story: Peter L. McGuire 

TICKET TO THE ARTS  — The Western Maine Passport to the Arts links a network of cultural organizations, venues and businesses that offer an annual discount to visitors. The discount is contained in a handy, passport-sized booklet with 80 pages of art, music, craft, food, lodging and activities. Western Maine Arts + Business Collaborative hopes to make the passports available for sale in time for the holiday season. 

In the coming year, the profile of westernMaine’s thriving arts scene will be increased with a new product – the Western Maine Passport to the Arts, advocates hope. 

If the project is successful, it could help develop an even stronger creative economy in the region. 

The Western Maine Arts + Business Collaborative has been working on the passport for the past two-and-a-half years, says Aranka Matolcsy, Executive Director of the Mahoosuc Arts Council.

The WMA+BC includes the Western Maine Economic Development Council, MAC, Skye Theater in Carthage, the Celebration Barn Theater in Paris and the Western Maine Cultural Alliance. 

The idea is to connect art and cultural organizations across Oxford and Franklin counties with local businesses like restaurants, inns and B&Bs, Matolcsy explains. 

Participating businesses and organizations will offer one annual discount to passport-holders – it could be an entrance ticket or a general percent discount on purchases. 

The passport is an 80-page booklet, with a two-page spread for each cultural organization and space for businesses. Each passport costs $20, but the discounts come up to $300. 

Matolcsy says the passport creates a unique, collective marketing opportunity and participants have considerable latitude in how they use the passport, Matolcsy explains. 

“Each organization can really tailor how they use these,” Matolcsy says. “It’s a really dynamic tool that way.” 

By connecting cultural organizations and businesses, the WMA+BC aims to raise the profile of western Maine as a cultural destination and boost the local economy. 

Creative economy

 Matolcsy says the wealth of artists, musicians and craftspeople in western Maine primes it to develop a strong creative economy.  

But the region isn’t as well-known as other art locales and WMA+BC hopes the passport can help put the region on the map. 

“Western Mainehas been so far ahead of so many other communities,” she says. “There is a wave of cultural development … and western Maine is the crest.” 

Glen Holmes, WMEDC Executive Director, says the region has the cultural capital to make an economic collaboration between arts and business thrive. 

“A lot of people come here for the arts,” says Holmes. 

“This area has a tremendous history of this type of thing.” 

Former Buckfield Town Manager Holmes remembers how the town benefited when the Odd Fellows Theater had a show. He hopes the passport will have a similar effect, region-wide, and compliment existing attractions, like outdoor sports. 

Holmes says businesses and organizations have flocked to the passport idea –  space in the first-year’s passport is quickly running out. 

If the passport’s first year is successful, WMA+BC hopes to expand the project. 

WMA+BC wanted to keep the cost of both the passport and joining the network low to encourage groups and businesses across the spectrum to join. Businesses can join for $30 – the cost includes five passports they can sell and keep the profit. 

Arts venues can join for $50 and receive 10 passports to sell. 

Exposure 

Although the hope is to draw more tourists to the area, the passport is also aimed at locals, says Matolcsy – it gives people an opportunity to appreciate the wealth of culture, art and music in their own backyards. 

“I find that the more people are exposed to the arts, the more they appreciate them,” says Holmes. “This is a great way to get involved, at a relatively low cost.” 

Because the passport is affordable and the network of organizations it represents is so diverse, it is attractive to people across the income and age spectrum. 

“You can customize any sort of visit through this network,” Matolcsy says. 

The project is funded through a $5,000 grant from the Maine Lakes and Mountains Tourism Council.  

As Matolcsy explains, the idea is really the brainchild of Toni Seger, Director of the Western Maine Cultural Alliance, who worked with Linda Walbridge, former WMEDC director, to kickstart the idea. 

Passports will be available at participating businesses and online at www.maineartspassport.biz

Holmes says there will be a limited run in the first year – those interested in purchasing passports should act soon. 

Space in the passport is limited –  for interested businesses and organizations, the deadline for signing up is October 15 –  the passports should be available by December.

For more information about the passport, contact WMA+BC at info@maineartspassport.biz or 200-2770.