Nearly three years after the Old Port Festival was scrapped, a new Portland festival focused on art and music is being planned for June at Thompson’s Point.
Called Resurgam, the one-day event is being organized by the nonprofit Maine Academy of Modern Music, which is working with a variety of community groups and businesses. The free festival will include many of the elements the Old Port Festival was known for during its 46-year run, including stages for live music and performing arts groups, Maine-made arts and crafts, food and a parade featuring the towering puppets of Portland’s Shoestring Theater.
The new festival, scheduled for June 12, will focus on showcasing young people in the arts and highlighting Portland’s creativity, said Jeff Shaw, executive director and founder of MAMM.
“We understand that we’re filling some of the void left by the Old Port Festival, but this is new, and we’re not trying to replicate that,” said Shaw. “We want this to be a community festival for everyone.”
Spectators on Exchange Street watch Shoestring Theater’s parade at the last Old Port Festival, in 2019. In June Shoestring Theater will bring its parade to the new Resurgam festival on Thompson’s Point. Photo by Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer
The Old Port Festival was one of Portland’s signature events, held each June as a kick-off to summer and drawing as many as 30,000 people in a day. It began in 1973 as a way to attract people to Old Port businesses. The area was a little worn around the edges then and certainly not the nationally-known restaurant, retail and tourist destination it is today. Portland Downtown, the nonprofit downtown improvement group that ran the event, announced in March 2019 that the festival would end that year because it was no longer needed; people had become well aware of all the Old Port offers. Organizers decided their time and energy would be better spent on other Old Port events, including Christmas season celebrations.
Many in Portland lamented the loss of a festival that kicked off summer, brought together so many people and put a focus on local artists and musicians. Nance Parker, director of Shoestring Theater, said she was glad to hear about the new festival, not only because it takes some of the sting out of the Old Port Festival’s demise, but because after more than two years of the COVID pandemic, Portlanders really need it.
“I think this is really exciting. We need to get back that community feeling of ‘Hey Portland, it’s summer and we’re all here, we’ve been here all winter, now let’s go out and have fun together,’ ” said Parker. “I think that is really essential to a city. It’s time for us to start to breathe and live again.”
The festival’s name comes from the Portland city motto, adopted in 1832, that means “I shall rise again” in Latin. The city has risen from the ashes, literally, more than once, including after being bombarded by the British Navy in 1775 and after a devastating fire in 1866.
Shaw said he thought Resurgam had special meaning right now, as we all look to get back to a more normal life after two years of COVID.
“I think that’s the feeling right now, that we’re rising out of COVID,” said Shaw.
Some of the arts and community groups partnering on the new festival include the Boys and Girls Clubs of Southern Maine, Learning Works, A Company of Girls, the Portland Public Library, Shoestring Theater, Portland Community Squash, the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine, and the arts and music venue Space. Shaw said details of specific performances and activities are still being worked out. Partner groups will likely have a presence at the festival, either promoting their missions or putting on demonstrations or performances.
Concerts featuring national acts are held outdoors at Thompson’s Point in the summer, on a large grassy space on the Fore River. Much of the Resurgam festival will be held in or near that area. People shopping or attending events at Thompson’s Point usually have to pay for parking there, but Shaw said he is working on finding parking sponsors to provide as much free parking as possible. Shaw is hoping people will also walk, bike or kayak to the waterfront site. Thompson’s Point is located about two miles west of the Old Port.
Nance Parker, director of the Shoestring Theater, organizes the parade before the last Old Port Festival in 2019. Parker and the parade will be part of the new Resurgam festival scheduled for June at Thompson’s Point in Portland. Photo by Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer
While the Old Port Festival required city streets to be closed, Thompson’s Point is a privately-owned 30-acre arts, entertainment, retail and events complex on the Fore River. Chris Thompson, owner and developer of Thompson’s Point, wrote a letter to the Maine Office of Tourism in support of the festival and its organizers.
“Their goal of celebrating music, youth, and the arts is a winning formula for everyone involved, and would be a signature Maine event that would signify the start of a summer of arts, culture, and great experiences for all,” Thompson wrote.
Shaw said there will be at least four stages at the festival, hosting MAMM bands, local adult musicians and performing arts groups. One of the MAMM stages will host musicians who are recent immigrants to Maine as part of its International Music Connection program. Arts and crafts will be displayed in a large building at Thompson’s Point, called Brick South, while music and entertainment will be outside, Shaw said.
The new festival’s event manager will be Sally Newhall of Sea Glass Events, who held the same position with the Old Port Festival.
The new festival is a “fresh, diverse cultural event” that is likely to bring tourists to the city and help the local economy, said Hannah Collins, deputy director of the Maine Office of Tourism. The office awarded Resurgam a $10,000 grant to help with marketing the festival, she said.
“We look for projects that show collaboration within the community and can enhance the tourism economy. This has those elements,” said Collins.
Some of the festival’s sponsors so far include Machias Savings Bank, Coffee By Design, Bissell Brothers Brewing, State Theatre, Maine Life Real Estate of eXp Realty, Dale Carnegie Training, Nadra Photography and UPP Global, Shaw said. Anyone interested in being involved with the festival, including as a vendor, sponsor or host of a performance stage, can visit Resurgamfest.com.
Maine Academy of Modern Music students on the MAMM stage at the 2019 Old Port Festival. Photo by Francois Gagne Commercial Photography
MAMM is a 14-year-old nonprofit organization, based in Portland, that runs music programs for children and teens around the state. It served some 2,000 young people before the pandemic and about half that number since, Shaw said. The organization provides lessons, helps kids form bands and get gigs, runs summer camps and puts on public performances. The Old Port Festival had been a key showcase for MAMM students and bands, who performed there each year on the MAMM stage and participated in the parade.
“When I found out the Old Port Festival was canceled, I was so sad. It was so much fun and there were always big crowds,” said Rosa Slack, 14, of Portland, a MAMM student who plays several instruments and has performed at the Old Port Festival. “I’m really glad I’m going to have the opportunity to play (at a festival) again.”
Julie Butcher Pezzino, executive director of the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine, said Resurgam will help the organization with its mission of introducing children to the arts. Pezzino said that the museum, which opened its new building at Thompson’s Point in June, will likely host a stage with live music at the festival.She’s also glad that Resurgam will give young musicians, actors or other performers a chance to be seen by a wide audience. That was something vital the Old Port Festival had provided, she said.
Jeff Shaw, executive director and founder of Maine Academy of Modern Music, stands on Thompson’s Point where the new festival Resurgam will be held in June. The Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine can be seen on the right. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer
Kelsey Halliday Johnson, executive director at Space, thinks Resurgam will fill a need the city has right now, a need for a place where people can be introduced to the arts without specifically having to buy a ticket to a concert hall or a museum.
“This fills a pressing need in the community. Not everyone walks into an arts venue, so we have to make sure there are outdoor events like this where people can stumble across the arts, in a way they don’t do in everyday life,” said Johnson.
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