Arts & Culture Recommends: “Circus in the Streets” on First Friday

Posted on December 01, 2013 in Arts & Culture
By Francis Flisiuk

First Friday Art Walk is going to be different this December, circus acts different. Plans for the monthly event include a debut performance by world renowned performers from the Circus Conservatory of America an organization founded to make Portland Maine the first city in the nation to host a dedicated circus arts college.

Portland’s Holiday Edition Art Walk falls on December 6th this year and marks the first time in the Art Walk’s history that Congress street will be closed off to traffic. This accommodation is being made for something much more than the usual crowds of over 3,000 people admiring local art displayed by shops and galleries. Portland is going to need the extra space for a company of acrobats showcasing their talents in a street performance titled “Circus in the Streets.”

“Getting permissions to close down Congress street wasn’t easy,” said the Executive Director of Creative Portland and one organizer of the First Friday event Jennifer Hutchins. “Congress street is the major artery for downtown Portland, and it took a lot of collaboration with local businesses and merchants to make it happen.”

According to Hutchins, street performers and artists often venture into the street anyway but the shutdown of the street would do more than just address a safety concern. “We were looking for something to draw more traffic into the intersection of Congress and Park Street and that’s when we decided to turn the Arts District into a circus,” said Hutchins.

The circus artists, apart from performing at this event, are also hard at work, building America’s first Circus College on Thompson’s Point in Portland, Maine. The college’s mission includes educating performers and people interested in the circus arts about business, production and creativity. They’re also aiming to connect Maine’s most unique artists in ways that complement the state’s creative economy.

“The circus performing arts are gaining a lot of momentum right now. Its not just the painted clown with the big red nose anymore, it’s much more dramatic and acrobatic then that,” said Hutchins.

According to the Circus Conservatory’s founder Peter Nielsen, Portland is the perfect city for a circus college because of its population’s unique blend of creativity and entrepreneurship.

Hutchins agrees. “Portland is ideal. People are attracted by both the size of our city, the vibe, the youthful nature and the creative opportunities,” she said.

“Circus in the Street” is an extension of the conservatory’s mission and will be, according to a press release from Portland’s Downtown District, a spectacular once-in-a-lifetime experience. December’s First Friday marks the first time Portland will be able to enjoy these artist’s talents, and the intersection of Congress Street and Park Street will be the stage.

“It’s going to feel like a very spontaneous experience, with street performers popping out of the woodwork everywhere,” said Hutchins.

The performance comes from an effort and collaboration of both Creative Portland and Portland’s Downtown District as well as some local sponsors. They have strived to bring together talent from  the Circus Conservatory, local freelancers and area students for an event described by Portland’s Downtown District’s Executive Director Steve Hewins as a unique celebration of art in the city. The festivities take the form of two 45 minute showings starting at 6 p.m. Apart from “Circus in the Streets” there will also be a performance by the Portland Ballet in the windows of the Portland Public Library as well as a student art sale at the Maine College of Art.

“This is definitely the time to visit the Art Walk if you haven’t been. There is a lot going on this month that will make you realize this isn’t your average art walk,” said Hutchins.