Shoveling out this column

While shoveling out after the latest blizzard, I was reminded of the importance of keeping up with this task lest the next squall make the job twice as hard. In this spirit, I figured I’d use this space this week to follow up on some recent columns and tie up some loose ends that would otherwise remain buried beneath the snowpack of fresh issues.

Let’s begin with last week’s column about the sorry state of Portland’s visual-art scene. Several people, including a former mayor of Portland, wrote to ask if I intended to leave Greenhut Galleries off the short list of two spaces currently exhibiting creative contemporary art in Maine’s artistic epicenter. The short answer: yes.

I think gallery owner and curator Peggy Greenhut Golden has an excellent eye for modern art, and I’ve promoted her shows in the pages of my publication from time to time, whenever I’ve been particularly impressed with the quality of the work on view. Painter Thomas Connolly’s cityscapes of Portland and New York always catch my eye, as do Jeff Bye’s richly rendered scenes from the same cities, especially those that explore unpainterly spaces like Laundromats and lavatories. Susan Barnes’ mixed-media work foils expectations by layering multiple frames and perspectives atop landscapes that dare to evoke both the beauty and bleakness of our state.

That said, the gallery’s collection is dominated by decorative art and more traditional landscapes depicting bucolic Maine scenes. There’s a smattering of sculpture and a nod to abstract expressionism (Sandra Quinn’s canvases), but no photography and little evidence of a willingness to accept more challenging work that would clash with the couch.

Golden is among the gallery owners who took issue with Art Collector Maine’s practices — ACM’s Portland gallery is just a couple doors down from her own. Although both spaces show work with a similar aesthetic, it’s worth noting how Golden’s experience and taste result in a markedly stronger collection than that assembled by the financier who picks pieces by the people who pay ACM for the privilege of being considered.

In early December, I wrote about the showdown between the new owner of the Portland Phoenix and the team behind the Boston-based alternative newsweekly DigPortland. That showdown ended abruptly last month when the Phoenix basically paid the Dig to stop publishing and, in exchange, dropped its federal lawsuit against the Dig that claimed the rival paper engaged in unfair and illegal business practices. Nearly all of the Dig’s staff and freelancers (most of whom jumped from the Phoenix’s sinking ship to start DigPortland) found themselves out of work and out of print.

This whole mess could have been avoided if the Phoenix’s founding owner, Stephen Mindich, had simply sold the Portland paper to the guys from the Dig, who were eager to start an alt-weekly in Portland at the same time Mindich was eager to unload his. Why didn’t that happen?

I’ll let you in on a little secret: Mindich deeply despises the owners of the Dig, and not without reason. When the Dig launched its alt-weekly in Boston about 15 years ago, it also launched a steady stream of salvos aimed at its more established competitor, The Boston Phoenix, and at Mindich personally. The Dig routinely mocked Mindich in its pages, referring to him as “Rosebud” (the dying word of the media magnate in “Citizen Kane”). That personal animosity overrode any financial considerations in this situation.

One could argue that Mindich deserved the ribbing he received. For example, his decision to expand the Phoenix chain of alt-weeklies into the Portland market back in 1999, when I was working for the more established Casco Bay Weekly, didn’t exactly put him on my Christmas-card list. But there’s a difference between criticizing (or even mocking) a rival paper and taking personal shots at its owner. If you cross that line, you have to be prepared to be left out of the game entirely.

Lastly, a case that illustrates the point I made last month about Portland’s new app that allows citizens to alert city officials to potholes and other public-works problems via smartphones. I recently spoke with the owner of a restaurant downtown who was frustrated by the fact that, even after numerous parking bans, the side street by his place was full of snow boulders that precluded any parking along an entire side of the street, thereby dampening business for days.

“Did you call the city to complain?” I asked.

“Why bother?” he replied. “I know what they’re gonna tell me: We’ll get to it when we can.”

I suspect the ten grand the city blew on the app would have been better spent on a few more snow blowers.

Chris Busby

About Chris Busby

Chris Busby is editor and publisher of The Bollard, a monthly magazine about Portland. He writes a weekly column for the BDN.