Where It’s At: Portland, Maine

All art towns have a few characteristics in common: There are galleries that feature student, emerging or mid-career artists’ works, original boutiques and restaurants that replace the chain variety, public transportation, affordable housing, monthly art events (such as first-or final-Friday gallery walks) and an overall funky vibe. Portland, Maine, has all of these, with the monthly event falling on the first Friday of the month.

These factors contribute to the accolades Portland receives, such as ranking No. 6 on Relocate America’s Top 100 Places to Live in 2007, No. 12 on Frommer’s Top Travel Destinations for 2007, No. 20 on Inc. Magazine‘s 2006 Boom Town List of Hottest Midsize Cities and No. 7 in the 2005 edition of The 100 Best Art Towns in America (The Countryman Press). Portland was also nominated as one of three finalists for "Delicious Destination of the Year" at the 2007 Food Network Awards—lobster, anyone?

The Downtown Art District and the Old Port sections are the main arts areas. Downtown you’ll find Congress Street, where institutions like the Portland Museum of Art (PMA) and the Institute for Contemporary Art at the Maine College of Art (ICA) reside. The PMA boasts works by famed Maine artists, such as Andrew and N.C. Wyeth, Rockwell Kent, Winslow Homer, George Bellows and others. For more experimental offerings, visit the ICA. Also on Congress Street is The Wadsworth-Longfellow house. The childhood home of the poet is a museum that’s open May through October. The Old Port features cobblestone streets and galleries, plus a walk along the (working) waterfront. And head to the Maine State Pier to catch a glimpse of the 450-foot Whale Wall, a mural along the waterfront painted by artist Robert Wyland.

Travel on the Web: www.portlandmaine.com, www.visitportland.com, www.ci.portland.me.us.

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