Josh Gass is the managing director of Launchpad. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Bangor artists can apply for a new grant to help them keep making art in the area, even as rent and the cost of living spike.

Keep Bangor Creative, spearheaded by the arts incubator Launchpad, will offer micro-grants of up to $500 to artists for projects that they might not otherwise be able to afford, whether it’s an art installation, recording an album or producing a play or local music showcase. The fund, launched this week, is open to individuals or organizations in Bangor or within a 10-mile radius.

Unlike other locally available grants, such as those distributed by the city of Bangor’s cultural development commission, these are geared toward individual artists and small organizations, and allow more creative flexibility with less rigid timelines.

Many in the area — including artists and creatives, who often work on shoestring budgets and can’t afford huge rent increases — have felt the squeeze for several years now, said Josh Gass, Launchpad’s managing director.

“Even before COVID, we were already talking about the changing creative landscape in the area,” Gass said. “We just want to make sure that we are doing everything we can to make sure creative people feel like they have the resources they need to do what they do to help make this a great place to live.”

Twelve years ago, when Gass and his colleagues at former Bangor music festival KahBang began renting an office in downtown Bangor, they paid $100 a month for a large second-floor space on Central Street. They also were regularly able to host pop-up events in vacant buildings, like poetry nights, temporary art galleries and band showcases.

“When you have lots of creative people in close proximity to each other, it all builds on itself,” he said.

Today, those same spaces command hundreds or even thousands of dollars in monthly rent. Many downtown buildings have been purchased in the past few years by real estate developers and renovated into higher-end office spaces or luxury apartments. In June, a developer who had recently acquired 27 State St. told 20 businesses to leave, including a number of artists who in some cases had had studios there for decades, to allow for renovations.

“It’s a great thing to see buildings get fixed up, and to see so many businesses thrive,” Gass said. “But at the same time, we are losing some of what makes Bangor really special. It’s the creative people that help attract big developers in, who then buy things up. We can’t forget who helped bring us to the dance.”

A $500 award might not go far for a large, established arts organization. But for a young artist scrambling to afford supplies or pay various other costs, it can mean the difference between actually making art, or letting a cool idea fall by the wayside. If a Bangor-area artist has a project they want to work on but can’t get it off the ground due to financial constraints, the Keep Bangor Creative fund can help.

Gass said Keep Bangor Creative also plans to offer non-monetary support in the form of pro bono services from lawyers and accountants, who can assist artists in forming a small business or filing taxes.

In addition to the fund, Keep Bangor Creative also has a second fund named for longtime Bangor poet and spoken word artist, Allan Lloyd Trott, who died in 2019. That fund is meant for projects by writers, poets and spoken word artists.

Individuals, businesses and organizations can join Keep Bangor Creative by giving money or donating space or services. The deadline to apply for the first round of grants is Feb. 17, 2023.

Gass said Keep Bangor Creative was inspired, in part, by the Keep Austin Weird movement from the early 2000s, which aspired to support local art and businesses in rapidly gentrifying Austin, Texas. Similar movements later sprung up in cities like Portland, Oregon, and Louisville, Kentucky.

“We need to keep creative people here, because that’s what makes Bangor cool,” he said. “We just want to be a little part of helping to do that.”

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Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.