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Art At Work

Jul 29, 2019

Art At Work is a national initiative to improve municipal government through strategic arts projects with municipal employees, elected officials and local artists.” Art At Work carries out unique arts-based projects that are developed with the community to address a specific need or issue.”

Art at work | Marty Pottenger | TEDxDirigo


Art At Work has worked in partnership with the City of Portland, Maine since 2007, and also partnered on municipal projects in cities across the United States.


Art At Work was created by the arts non-profit Terra Moto Inc, and is led by the award-winning theatre artist Marty Pottenger. Projects engage various municipal employees and citizens.

What and How?

Art At Work begins by interviewing key stakeholders to identify critical challenges. They then design a strategic arts project to address that issue, engaging the city workers, elected officials and union members that are connected to the issue.

Participants sitting in a circle“The process of making art - poetry, collages, photographs, or music - dramatically increases participants’ ability to actively engage, function as a team, envision a positive outcome, remember their connections and be willing to take inspired risks that lead to innovative solutions.” – Marty Pottenger

Art At Work employs creative intelligence as a vital tool for municipalities to leverage the talents of their own workforce as well as the communities they serve. In the face of increasingly complex municipal challenges and diminishing resources, Art At Work has successfully demonstrated that artmaking is a valuable, cost-effective, sustainable tool to both address intransigent municipal problems and deepen the public’s awareness and appreciation of local government’s role in creating healthy, educated, engaged, economically vibrant communities.

Community Impact?

In partnership with the City of Portland, Maine since 2007, Art At Work has put creativity to work delivering measurable outcomes to improve police force morale, deepen cross-cultural understanding among Public Service workers and raise public awareness and appreciation for the role of government.

In Portland, Art at Work projects have directly involved over a hundred city employees and more than seventy five local artists. City employees have created hundreds of original artworks, performances, poetry readings and civic dialogues that have engaged over 25,000 people in the region and reached over a million people through local and major media outlets. City workers' posters, prints, photographs, and poems hang in galleries, city parking garages, lunchrooms, recycling centers, police stations, libraries, conference rooms, and maintenance shops, increasing awareness, respect and pride.

Case Study: Forest City Times

Forest City Times - police & youth performances in Portland Maine

In 2010, Maine Inside Out worked with immigrant high school students to create a play (The Weeping City) about their relationship with police.

By this time, the Portland Police had been working with Art At Work for some time and had already completed several successful art projects. The fatal police shooting of a local Sudanese man prompted over 15 incidents of bottle and rock-throwing at police cars and officers. Having seen the students’ play, Police Chief James Craig asked Art At Work to work with police to create a play that would convey their experiences and address escalating tensions. Before agreeing to write and direct what became ‘Radio Calls’, Pottenger asked for Craig’s permission and assistance in making sure the play’s creation process included officers ‘more likely to cross a line’, pointing out that Art At Work projects were intended to inspire transformational outcomes not simply improve public relations. A spirited negotiation ensued, ending with another officer offering to identify those officers and Craig’s agreement to clear the way to their participation.

Together, these two plays made up Forest City Times. Performed at all 3 high schools in Portland, at the public library's theater, and broadcast on television, the performances are evidence of the momentum that's been created for strategic art projects to engage and impact city policy & practices in Portland.

Police receiving pin as part of Forest City Times project

As part of the agreement with Art At Work, the Chief agreed that the performance's research & development activities would include officers 'most likely to misbehave'. And though none of those officers agreed to be in the actual performance, the officers who were in the performance describe their experience with The Weeping City's cast - 9 African-born high school students - as life changing. In the year following the performances, a variety of police officers reported scores of first-ever, youth-initiated, positive interactions, all referring to the officers' performance.

Written and directed by Marty Pottenger, produced by Art At Work/Terra Moto, with help from Maine Inside Out, City of Portland, Sam Cohen Foundation, Maine Community Foundation and the Nathan Cummings Foundation.

Find out more about Art at Work on their website here


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