[Editor’s note: This statement of support for the proposed Belfast Civic Center was written by Bryan C. Matluk and shared by Marjorie Byers on Matluk’s behalf at the March 2 City Council meeting.]

While not a true Mainer, I did spend the formative years of my life in Belfast (thirrd grade onwards) and graduated from the high school in 2000. I went to college at the University of Maine and now, several years later, find myself in Washington, D.C., as one of 10 international Fellows at the John F. Kennedy Center’s Institute for Arts Management.

While I have many responsibilities here (from analyzing marketing strategies for the Mariinsky Opera to cultivating a national arts network), the responsibility that I enjoy the most is speaking with various groups about the Kennedy Center and discussing the ways they can improve their own nonprofit institution. I am always asked where I come from and I always respond: “a little city on the coast of Maine called Belfast.” Inevitably, there is always one person in the group who says quite enthusiastically, “I drove through there one summer!”

I mention all of this for the sole purpose of highlighting the effect that the culture of Belfast had on me when I was growing up. Without the efforts of people like John Cameron, Basil Burwell (and countless others) or the many festivals and small businesses, my life growing up would have been quite dull! Belfast is a burgeoning, positive community that naturally endows its members with a richness that is found nowhere else. I can’t imagine that I would ever have ended up at the Kennedy Center or running my own performing arts organization (the nation’s largest unassociated ballet school) if Belfast weren’t such a culturally cool town.

I’ve actually tried to imagine Belfast without its cultural organizations and then find myself subtracting many of the retail businesses that rely on this culturally minded consumer traffic. From there, I need to subtract other businesses that work with these retailers and also must seriously attenuate most of the others. This of course limits the amount of revenue the city government receives and suddenly we are left with a town that doesn’t resemble Belfast anymore, but does resemble Frackville, Pa.

Among the advantages of working at the nation’s cultural and performing arts center and providing free consulting to institutions across the country; I have the opportunity to experience firsthand the positive effects that event centers have upon towns and cities of all sizes and demographics. Wherever they are in the country, event centers are a large and dependable source of earned income for local businesses, drawing consumers who would otherwise either not come at all or would only come on a sporadic basis.

People often balk when they hear what the initial costs of creating such a center will be; however these costs prove minimal when compared with the lifetime earning power of such an establishment. When managed soundly with healthy public and private support, an endowment and steady utilization of approximately 75 percent capacity, most centers can turn a steady profit year after year. A center such as this would increase revenues for surrounding retail businesses, provide a needed facility for community events of all types, draw in businesspeople and artists and would overall increase the desirability of Belfast as a destination.

Due to the difficulty of sustaining the arts on earned revenue alone, they are often ridiculed and overlooked. However it is just as easy to overlook the fact that a single performing arts ticket will (on average) contribute more than $25 to the local economy. When you consider that with a capacity of 350 and a planned 30 events a year plus non-arts rentals ranging from banquets to conventions, you suddenly end up with a number that will have a sizable impact on the community.

Such an establishment as the one proposed would fill a void in the Midcoast between Rockland and Bangor — a cultural center worthy of its name, added staying power for tourists and a destination for individuals and businesses throughout Maine, not to mention the positive effect on the cultural well-being of the community. Maybe after this center is built, when I tell people I am from Belfast they will say, “I stayed there one summer,” instead of, “I drove through there one summer.”

Bryan C. Matluk is a Fellow at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Institute for Arts Management. He is the former acting executive director of the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, and is a graduate of Belfast Area High School.