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Summer fun with AIGA Maine

Creative communities grow in varied ways, sometimes with plenty of hard work, and sometimes with a few laughs over summertime drinks. Enter AIGA Maine’s monthly Cocktails and Creatives events, the latest of which was held on Thursday night at the Moulton Street offices of the ad agency McCabe, Duval and Associates. Especially in “big small” towns like Portland, it’s easy for creative people to silo themselves off, working away on their own projects in their own cozy universe – stepping away from the desk to talk shop (or to decidedly not talk shop) becomes as necessary to the health of one’s career as a steady paycheck.

AIGA Maine’s president, the always affable man-about-town Sean Wilkinson, told me he joined AIGA specifically because of how energized he was by the Cocktails and Creatives events. “They’re the best way for designers to get a sense of community,”  Wilkinson said. He was carrying a stack of eye-catching postcards for the Carnovsky exhibition at Space Gallery — Wilkinson’s advice to any and all: “go see it” – and weaving his way through a mixed crowd of corporate-looking ad agency types, to younger bohemians, to a few dudes in Hawaiian print shirts who looked like they just stepped off a Jimmy Buffet party boat.

The snacks and drinks flowed, mixing nicely with the stunning views of the waterfront from McCabe Duval’s enviable corner office balconies. I chatted for awhile with Chrystine Muncherian and Cynthia Liang, two summer interns at C.I.E.E., a local nonprofit organization that advocates for international student exchange programs. Muncherian, a recent graduate of Stonehill College in Massachusetts, spoke enthusiastically of the web design work she’s doing at C.I.E.E., of her mentor, and of the importance of responsive web design (which, for those of you unaware like me, means websites that don’t look wonky when you load them on your iphone or other devices).

Muncherian and Liang have been in town for about a month, and are here through August. I’ve reached the age where I can no longer distinguish the difference between thirteen-olds and twenty-four-year olds, so it was heartening to talk to two young, wide-eyed sprigs who looked like children but were quite obviously fully-functional, sharp-thinking adults.

I asked the duo their thoughts on Portland; the good and the bad. Both agreed that Portland’s public transportation options need to improve. As for the good, there was a lot to choose from. Liang, a marketing intern at C.I.E.E., who hails from the Pacific Northwest and is attending the University of Oregon in the other Portland, liked that our Portland had the cozy creative vibe of her hometown without the overbearing glut of hipsters. Muncherian liked that Portland is a “smaller, but open city,” and one that is full of amazing food (their mutually agreed favorite eateries: Duck Fat and the Standard Bakery — with the bakery’s proximity to their office being a source of unending joy to their lunchtime taste buds).

I tried to drown out the wall of excited conversations around me as the two talked of dream jobs in Tokyo and the future of design. Listening to their enthusiastic chatter, I considered how one of my favorite things about Portland is how multi-generational the town is. In San Francisco, where I lived for six years, it was a rarity to see integrated generations at an arts or creative event — in Portland, you get a mixed crowd wherever you go — everyone from stroller-bound toddlers to sharp-eyed septuagenarians. Then, looking around the happy crowd, I considered grabbing another beer.

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