Betting on art as the centerpiece of an economic comeback, Tides Institute & Museum of Art’s Artsipelago will rebrand and connect a number of established efforts as well as develop artist live/work space and studio space to drive arts participation and ultimately talent retention in this rural, multicultural, coastal archipelago.
ArtPlace spoke with Jude Valentine, Director of Programs at the Tides Institute and Museum of Art, about new challenges that engaging in creative placemaking presents for her, TIMA, and the artists they work with.
ARTPLACE: Are there new challenges that engaging in creative placemaking presents for you, your organization and the artists who work with you? Are there new skills required?
VALENTINE: There are many kinds of creative challenges involved with any community building effort—which is how I view creative placemaking. Challenges are especially evident with efforts that cover new ground. Artsipelago and the adaptive reuse of an historic downtown building into TIMA’s StudioWorks present creative opportunities for growth in a number of ways. For us it is crucial that growth occurs not only in organizational capacity, and community learning, but actual population building. Our region has lost 80 percent of its population over the last century. We are at a very critical juncture. Failure is not an option. This is always on our mind as we develop programs and go about our work. Our ArtPlace project did not begin in a vacuum. Artsipelago builds on programs and professional relationships created over several years.
TIMA’s strategy has always been to work across different community sectors, offering opportunities for networking, collaboration, partnerships and good will. Our greatest challenges are to generate buy-in and pushing against inertia to build momentum. Once we establish project win-win objectives, however, these hurdles are easily cleared. These challenges exist personally, institutionally and with our partners. It is a learning curve. You have to believe in what you are doing. That energy then translates into action and creates confidence. And you have to wisely channel people’s energies and our limited funds to get things done. We are located right on the coastal U.S./Canada border between Maine and New Brunswick. From our beginnings, we have always worked to capitalize on this as a strength. So our region is an international one of about 20 communities that historically and culturally are tightly connected. We like to play on this notion of border by saying that we are “On the Creative EdgeTM.”
One of our first projects in networking was a cultural inventory called CulturePass [www.culturepass.net]. Started in 2005, Culturepass raised awareness of the more than 450 separate literary, visual and performing artists, cultural organizations and creative businesses existing within our cross border region. No one could believe so much existed here. With the launch of this on-line cultural database, it was clear we had a core critical mass to work with. Seven years later, CulturePass is an established, widely used web presence. One of its services includes delivery of a free weekly subscriber email on the region’s arts and cultural events. This extends our reach across our international Passamaquoddy Bay and around the world. Now, the database holdings are nearly doubled. So are our subscribers. CulturePass has been a huge success in networking, promoting and marketing our region.
In 2007, building on CulturePass, artists became interested in developing a region wide, weekend studio tour. Two Countries, One Bay Art Studio Tour (TCAT) was the result. The tour featured more than 60 open studios and cultural organization venues open for a weekend located on both sides of the border. This was a first for the region. It was unheard of. This year, we took things a step further, with the creation of Artsipelago, building on past CulturePass and TCAT successes. Artsipelago plays upon our region’s geography — a mix of islands, bays and peninsulas. We stretched things out to make Artsipelago a year round, arts and cultural passport, a guide and fold out map to the region’s film societies, music, local foods/farmers’ markets, artists, performances, ferries, historic and natural sites, and cultural organizations. It has more than 160 listings and this is only the first year. Now with StudioWorks, we are taking this approach a step further, by establishing a downtown storefront with an active letterpress, printmaking, digital and other arts studio combined with an artist residency program.
We want to bring the community and region into the studio. We want to bring artists out of the studio and into the downtown and into the region. One of our strategies for creative placemaking is to insert artist run activities into already established community celebrations. This past summer we sponsored a two-day inflatable sculpture workshop during the five-day Fourth of July Old Home Week celebration. We offered three, multi-day documentary photo workshops and a printmaking workshop rolled into other well-established community festivals. Participants loved the interaction with artists and artists loved the community connection. The challenge for many artists is to present their process outside of a studio setting. Logistics are a key component and working through details with partners so that everyone (artists, hosting organization, staff) is comfortable going in is critical.
Our transition studio opens in two weeks on the ground floor of the Tides Institute and Museum of Art. We will offer a series of workshops to middle and high school students after school, community poster making workshops, a documentary photo class and artist talk, digital photography, and letterpress and printmaking classes. Visiting artists will work in the studios day and night. There will be hours for the public to stop in and visit as well as to join in the fun through classes and workshops. This process is as much about community building as about creative placemaking.
Our challenges? Being careful and deliberate in constructing a positive experience, so that we build audiences that want to learn more with the arts, seeking it out and returning because of the experience. It is all about building connections and making the arts a relevant part of everyday life that feeds the soul of the individual, that in turn nurtures the fabric of the community. We think this can help Eastport and this region be a more engaged and exciting place. We think this can help Eastport and this region grow. We believe very strongly in this.