This week’s Alumni Spotlight shines on Breanna Pinkham Bebb, Class of 2012, and now the executive director of Our Town Belfast, a nonprofit downtown revitalization program. Bebb is originally from Winter Harbor and now resides in Belfast.
Tell us a little bit about what you are doing now:
I live in Belfast, Maine, where I am the executive director of the nonprofit organization Our Town Belfast (OTB). OTB is a community-driven and nationally-accredited Main Street program (one of more than 2200 in the United States) which seeks to support and promote our historic downtown district. We practice economic development within the context of historic preservation, and I am the sole staff person working with more than a hundred volunteers annually that put on events to bring people downtown, encourage shopping locally, and beautify the streetscape and parks in our waterfront commercial district. I am also a graduate of the Maine Development Foundation’s “Leadership Maine” program which I participated in from Fall 2013 through Spring 2014.
After 2.5 years on the job I was asked to serve on the Maine Downtown Center’s advisory council and began that volunteer work in January of 2015. As a member of the council I am part of a time providing support to nearly 30 communities in Maine that are trying to bring back their downtowns. In fact, Machias is one of these “network communities” and I hope to be offering support to them soon.
Until recently I served on the board of directors for the Belfast Area Chamber of Commerce and the Belfast Creative Coalition (an organization coordinating arts and culture for Waldo County) but have recently resigned those posts as my husband and I are soon having our first child.
I live, work, and play in downtown Belfast, which provides me with a great perspective from which to accomplish the work of running a nonprofit downtown revitalization program. One the side, I continue to make music whenever I can, and am a volunteer DJ at WERU Community Radio and host of the “Wicked Good Music Hour” (where I interview live performers on the show) Saturdays at 4pm.
What is the most valuable thing you learned while at UMM? How did your time at UMM prepare you for what you are doing now?
I learned some extremely valuable things during my time at UMM that help me in my current work. Studying the arts from an interdisciplinary perspective prepared me to look at community development from an interdisciplinary perspective as well. In the IFA program, creative writing, music, theatre, visual arts can all come together for a greater artistic product. Working in Belfast, creative workers and thinkers are coming together all the time to create events, beautify parks, run businesses, and support their neighbors – and all of this and more makes our city an enviable place to live.
There was a good deal of freedom allowed in the IFA program and so I learned about being self-directed and self-motivated, which is hugely important when you are an executive director. I don’t have a “boss” per say, but I have a board of directors and board president who oversee my work and provide guidance as to how we go about our mission. On a day to day basis, I am making my own schedule and organizing my priorities accordingly. I have had to do new and sometimes terrifying things in this job – various public speaking events from conferences to leading workshops and meetings to presenting to city council, soliciting funding from businesses and individuals, and occasionally championing ideas that could be controversial to some.
Working with students and professors of all ages, working styles, and talents prepared me to work with the diverse community I engage with now. Sometimes I am the youngest or the only woman in a meeting situation. I have learned to feel comfortable at events where everyone is wearing suits, and yet also feel comfortable meeting with contractors regarding a downtown construction project.
Overall, what impacted me most about my time at UMM was a sense of community-mindedness. UMM really fosters this. I can’t tell you how many university events, nursing homes, community suppers, and more that I’ve played at as a member of the Machias Ukulele Club. My own senior project for the IFA program was to host a concert fundraiser involving local young musicians and raising funds for their school music departments. It was an easy sell to get faculty, my peers, and the community to support and attend this event – because that’s just the kind of place that UMM is.
Do you have any advice for current students at UMM?
If you are able to work or volunteer while in college, I highly recommend it. My experience at UMM was excellent, but the final piece to my working-world preparedness came from my additional activities in my hometown of Winter Harbor. While in school, I was able to compliment my arts education by working as the administrative assistant at Schoodic Arts for All. We hosted events and workshops year-round in Hammond Hall and put on a two-week summer arts festival. I learned graphic design, office management, furthered my studies in arts event organizing and being able to run sound and lights for a theater. It took me eight years of going to school off and on to get my four year degree, and while I know that is not the right path for many, I am very glad to have taken my time, pursued additional interests, and padded my resume.
My only other piece of advice is to make the most of it. I wish that I had worked a little harder my first couple of years at UMM, to be honest. It can sometimes be easy to slide by and get a reasonable grade, but it’s important to remember that you’re there for a reason and you should get every ounce of learning and inspiration that you can out of your classes and your relationships with your peers and teachers. It’ll likely be the only time in your life you have this opportunity, so work it!
How has UMM made a positive impact on your life?
I have made what I believe will be life-long connections with students and faculty at UMM. I continue to make music whenever I can with Gene Nichols, Duane Ingalls, and friends from the improvisation and ukulele scenes at UMM. I’m fiercely proud of the people and courses that make up the IFA program and know that downeast Maine and lessons learned at UMM will continue to be a very important part of who I am, regardless of where my career and family life lead me.