Creative Portland launches app for exploring city's arts scene

Sep. 20—Creative Portland has launched a cultural app for smartphones that provides locals and visitors a digital tool to access everything the city has to offer when it comes to the arts.

The app was developed and designed over the last two years with $75,000 in grant funding from the Maine Arts Commission. It officially launched Tuesday.

"It's been approved by Apple, and it's in the store, so we're legitimate," Creative Portland Executive Director Dinah Minot told attendees of the fourth annual Arts & Culture summit, held at Cove Street Arts.

The Creative Portland app has sections for visual art, music, theater and other performing arts events. There is a tab for free events and another on where to buy local art. There is even one that shows a map of public restrooms throughout the city.

It's also customizable. Users can mark venues or specific artists as favorites or search by date.

The project grew out of conversations that began in 2016, Minot said, when the organization was updating its cultural plan. Creative Portland is the city's designated arts agency and set a goal of better highlighting Portland as a world-class arts destination.

"There's something for everyone in the app," she said. "As we develop functionality and provide useful features, the curated content will be published to attract new audiences."

Creative Portland received an additional $30,000 this year from the National Endowment for the Arts to include augmented reality, or AR, features into its app.

Those features are still being developed, but Minot said it's a more interactive way for visitors to experience Portland. An example of augmented reality might be a location on the city's waterfront where visitors can take a picture with a giant animated virtual lobster crawling out of the water.

"It's a fun way to draw people in," Minot said. "In an age of social media and desire for experiences, this is sort of an upgraded version of sticking your head in the banner at the fairgrounds."

The money from the NEA to support augmented-reality features will be provided to artists and venues that wouldn't otherwise be able to afford it.

Kate Anker, the Creative Portland board president, said the second grant from the NEA this year was a "wonderful validation of the development of our app."

The cultural app was developed by The Yarn Corporation, a Maine-based technology firm, and was designed and built by locals as well: Reed Berkowitz, a pioneer of Alternate Reality Games; designer/developer Darrel Grosvalet; and creative technologist Nick Hall, also known as Tripdragon.

"We're proud to work with Creative Portland and it is incredibly rewarding to see them receive the support of the NEA in these efforts to enhance the app with AR experiences, an emerging tech medium that is growing rapidly around the world and impacting the travel, arts and entertainment sectors," Yarn Corporation CEO Sam Mateosian said in a statement.

The app, which also closely mirrors Creative Portland's overhauled website, is available to download for iOS users.