Pilgrims for the Creative Economy

Alden Wilson, longtime executive director of the Maine Arts Commission, dropped by yesterday for a visit on the wide porch of the Hooper Cottage. I had contacted him in my capacity as chair of the Western States Arts Federation (WESTAF), in order to learn more about Maine’s groundbreaking “Creative Economy” initiative. The great state of Maine, it turns out, is a national leader in linking cultural investments with increased levels of creativity and innovation in the economic sector. Alden has been a visionary and an infantryman in a long campaign, and now arts and econonic growth wonks from all over the world are making pilgrimages to Maine to find out how he’s done it.

Which brings me to the Pilgrims. On the phone from Denver, I found out that Alden’s mother spends much of her summer in Ocean Park, a few blocks from my family’s place. During our visit yesterday, I learned that she worked for many years at Bates College in Lewiston, the home of my father’s grandfather, William B. Skelton, a big man at Bates himself and a one-time mayor of the city. I suspected that the final link would be the Mayflower, given Alden’s non-trendy first name. And sure enough, his family has proudly named somone in every generation after John Alden, just as mine has reverently tracked and reminded each new generation of our direct descendancy from John and Priscilla, who got the whole “Came Over on the Mayflower” thing off to a rousing start by having 10 children.

Alden Wilson, Maine’s forward-thinking governor John Elias Baldacci, and other leaders are creating a new compact among creative people in the arts and creative people in business and government. Even having survived as many battles as I know he must have fought, Alden has a creator’s fresh energy when he talks about the future. I like to think it’s a straight line to him from the bewildered band of Pilgrims who created a new England nearly four centuries ago. And thanks to my own New England links, I will have a chance to bring some of Alden’s fire back to Denver, where WESTAF is working to revitalize advocacy for arts and culture in the West through a research initiative concluding this fall.

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