22 Apr 2014

From Emergency to Emerge. How two cities came together to manage a crisis they never saw coming

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On a recent trip to New York City, as I sat in a client meeting alongside Rinck’s Director of Public Relations, Katie Greenlaw, a hometown crisis unfolded. The news arrived rapidly via text. First her phone, then mine and then a constant stream of in-coming messages, each more shocking than the last.

The editor of local L/A Magazine, director of LAFF, the Lewiston Auburn Film Festival and former city councilor had been arrested. And the charges were jaw dropping.

There’s no question that March 20, 2014 was a shocking, sad day for the Twin Cities. But what happened next was extraordinary. Our community stood up and said no. No way was this emergency going to define us. No way had we worked this hard to see our reputation tarnished. That “no” was backed by over a decade of hard work and dedication.

Ten years ago, Governor Baldacci chose Lewiston-Auburn to host The Governor’s Conference on Maine’s Creative Economy. As a community, we shined. We turned Bates Mill #5 into, arguably, the state’s coolest venue. We commissioned artist Jonathan Mess to see the beauty in our history through objects found in our mills. We hosted Richard Florida and dozens and dozens of forward-thinking artists, business people, leaders, educators, and students to re-imagine our state. Over 750 people gathered that day in Lewiston as architects of Maine’s future.

The event was transformative for the cities. We believed it. We owned it. In the last ten years, we have embraced it. Let’s admit it: we hunted cool and we nabbed it.

The change has been obvious. It started with Fuel and soon Lisbon Street came alive with fine dining, wine shops, coffee shops, a place to get freshly baked bagels and lox, sushi, Indian food or African cuisine.  Our mills were reawakened and filled with the most amazing tenants like Fishbones and Baxter Brewing Company. That’s worth repeating: we have our very own brewery!

Museum L/A was born as was Lyceum Gallery and the Franco Center, a world-class performing arts venue was developed into a crown jewel for the cities.

You could even say we turned into fitness fanatics. Rainbow Bicycles moved downtown, the Greater L/A Triple Crown was developed and the Dempsey Challenge drew thousands of cyclists and runners. 

And yes, a terrific, glossy magazine helped tell the stories. And that magazine staff built an amazing film festival. And beyond these examples, dozens more. “L/A. It’s happening here” became more than a slogan. For ten years, we made things happen.

All of these events were paramount to our ten-year rebirth as a creative, vital community. And that’s why on March 20th, we could not accept the state of emergency that we found ourselves in.  Within hours of the news, community members swept in and assessed the situation. When it became clear that LAFF could not be saved, we, instead, saved ourselves. Out of an emergency, we emerged. On March 25th, a new film festival was born, the Emerge Film Festival. We held a press conference within two hours of the decision (nothing like live streaming news to solidify a direction!) and shared the news to the most amazing, positive response ever.

What has become very clear is that our cities not only transformed over the last ten years but we also knocked the chip off our shoulders. Together, we had made a decision. We want to live and work in a place that is dynamic, youthful, healthy, strong, business-friendly, smart, savvy, chic, hip and that appreciates film and the arts.

On June 13 and 14, the Emerge Film Festival will take place in five downtown venues, showcasing close to 40 films and supported by dozens of businesses. L/A, you’re damn right it’s happening here!

Show us now that you, too, value living and working in a community that appreciates the arts. Buy your $15 Day Pass to Emerge Film Festival here: http://www.francocenter.org/events/104/emerge-film-festival/