Portsmouth is a city of dichotomies. Art-Speak board member Duncan Craig recently described it as follows: “One of the great things about Portsmouth is this sort of duality that it has going on, where you have the gritty and the smooth, and the loud and the quiet, and the fun energy but also this sort of quiet intimacy,” said Duncan, a partner with the digital marketing agency Raka.
Those words came in an Internet video explaining Art-Speak’s new slogan for the city of Portsmouth: “A Tiny Bit Huge.” The video is part of an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign aimed at raising $10,000, which would go toward launching a website and video series connected to the slogan. As of Tuesday morning, the campaign had raised about $2,600 — more than 25 percent of the target — in its first six days.
The project has drawn mixed reactions from local artists and residents, with some praising Art-Speak’s effort to draw attention to Portsmouth’s artistic community, and others criticizing the slogan and questioning its purpose.
In an interview with The Sound, Art-Speak board president Mike Teixeira said the range of strong opinions on the slogan shows how much people care about Portsmouth’s arts and culture community.
“I think the fact that they’re talking about it means it’s striking an emotional chord, and that’s all we can ask for,” he said.
It was Teixeira and Craig, both of whom work for marketing agencies, who came up with the idea of creating a slogan for the city. Teixeira said he was partly inspired by other city slogans, such as “I Love New York” and “Keep Austin Weird.” But he was also encouraged by a much more local campaign.
“Honestly, I was inspired by the Keep Portsmouth Loud slogan,” he said. The Keep Portsmouth Loud Facebook group formed last year in response to complaints about noise from the Prescott Park Arts Festival and other live events. To date, close to 5,500 people have liked the group’s Facebook page.
“I admired how much energy there was behind it. There’s so much passion in this city. Is there a way to harness it in between the dustups?” Teixeira said he asked himself. “Yes, there’s always going to be problems, but I wanted Art-Speak to help nurture the positive stuff.”
Teixeira and Craig approached the full board of Art-Speak, a city commission responsible for overseeing public art installations and other arts and cultural initiatives in Portsmouth. They formed a team of nine people to work on the slogan and an accompanying mark or logo. (In addition to Teixeira and Craig, the team included photographer Philip Cohen; Ken Dodge, creative director at Anchor Line; Seth Hoffman, founder and creative director of Catchfire Creative; Crystal Paradis, director of communications at Vital Design; Nancy Pearson, a city councilor and Art-Speak board director; writer and producer Katherine Rocheleau; and illustrator Matt Talbot, a designer with Brown & Company.) The team’s biggest challenge, Teixeira said, was coming up with a slogan that would “perfectly capture the dichotomy of Portsmouth.”
“How the hell do you embody a city that has salt piles in one corner and a high-tech company like Alpha Loft doing cool interactive projects in another corner?” he said.
Teixeira and the rest of the team believe “A Tiny Bit Huge” captures that dichotomy. To accompany the slogan, Talbot designed a mark in which the words are surrounded by various icons representing the city’s diverse offerings. Together, the slogan and icons are meant to show that Portsmouth is a small city with a huge range of attractive features.
If the crowdfunding campaign reaches its goal within 60 days, the money will be used to create a website that provides free online tools so that artists and businesses can customize the slogan for their own uses, Teixeira said.
The funds would also be used to produce an online video series showcasing local artists and organizations. Raising the money will allow Art-Speak to pay videographers and Web designers for their work on these initiatives, rather than asking them to donate their time, Teixeira said.
The purpose of the campaign, as described on the Indiegogo page, is to “raise the visibility of Portsmouth as an arts and cultural center. This will allow us to reach a larger audience, share our work with them, attract more people to the community, and strengthen our voice within the city.”
In the long run, Teixeira said he hopes the project will provide a source of income for Art-Speak to help fund its initiatives. The Tiny Bit Huge website would have an online store offering a line of branded products and, possibly, licensing agreements, Teixeira said.
“Art-Speak’s goal is to create a self-sustaining funding mechanism to fund promotion of the arts and cultural community, to give even the independent artist a way to show the world that they call Portsmouth home,” he said.
Art-Speak’s public announcement of the Tiny Bit Huge campaign on Jan. 21 drew immediate debate on social media.
Keep Portsmouth Loud posted a link to the Indiegogo page with the comment, “‘It’s kinda a big deal’ must have been taken.”
The thread of comments that followed included both statements of support and criticism of the project. Portsmouth resident Sarah Lachance said she is not against the intent of the campaign, but feels the slogan is ambiguous.
“I don’t like the slogan. It effectively says nothing — our city is neither tiny nor huge. We’re middling. We’re the mama bear’s porridge,” Lachance commented. “To me, this speaks to mediocrity, not exceptionalism.”
On the City of Portsmouth Post Whatever the F%&# You Want Facebook page, a spirited debate arose in the comments.
Jason Boucher, a Portsmouth resident and social media manager at the University of New Hampshire, said, “Looks great — hoping this is a huge success!”
Brian Kelly, a local actor and director of marketing at the Seacoast Repertory Theatre, also got behind the campaign. “I am pro anything that promotes Portsmouth as a cultural destination,” he commented.
“That ad campaign … is clearly designed to promote even more tourism in an oversaturated tourist destination.” — artist Jocelyn Toffic
Local painter Jocelyn Toffic, however, is highly skeptical of the project. “It kind of sounds like a city revenue building marketing ploy using artists to make Portsmouth look cool,” Toffic commented. “I’m just not sure how this benefits artists.”
“Bringing more buyers to market by marketing Portsmouth as a place to buy art sounds like a benefit to me,” Kelly replied.
Toffic elaborated on her concerns in an email to The Sound on Tuesday. She referred to the Tiny Bit Huge initiative as an “ad campaign … clearly designed to promote even more tourism in an oversaturated tourist destination.”
She said the campaign was more likely to benefit hotels, restaurants, and downtown retail stores than actual working artists.
“If Portsmouth actually wanted to help artists, they’d be focusing on how to get and keep artists and musicians here, and instead, as usual, they are focusing on how to get and keep money here,” she said.
Local photographer Matthew Doherty, too, questioned whether the campaign would truly help local artists.
“The problem with this is the same problem Portsmouth has as a whole; they are creating a campaign to attract consumers, rather than fostering a community that supports producing art