ArtPlaceAprilBlog

Betting on art as the centerpiece of an economic comeback, the 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 recently spoke with Hugh French, Director of the Tides Institute & Museum of Art, about the session he co-chaired in January at the ArtPlace conference in Miami.

ArtPlace: What was your session, “Barn Raising: Activating Untapped Community Capital,” all about?

French: A lot of the session involved about how to go about things differently to build synergy and build community buy-in.

Let me give a couple of examples. We started a New Year’s Eve tradition several years ago that involves the lowering of an artist created sardine (we are located where there was once a major sardine industry) and a Canadian maple leaf (we are located directly on the U.S./Canada border) an hour earlier (the border here also serves as a time zone border). We purposely have kept things on a very low budget and have allowed others to fit their New Year’s Eve activities with ours. Everyone does their part and we play the role of the coordinator. This way we don’t have to do all the organizing. It makes things much easier. This past New Year’s Eve we had live coverage by CNN. When we asked them why they chose us to cover, they said it was because we did two drops. That made us unique.

We’re also involved with the major restoration of two downtown historic buildings and the funding we received from ArtPlace has supported this effort. For the past year, we’ve been acting as coordinator for the City of Eastport for a CDBG downtown façade program. There are 29 buildings in the district and 12 of the buildings are involved in the program that will restore key architectural elements on the front facades of these buildings. We purposely have not had our two buildings involved in the program so more CDBG funds could go to others. The response to the program has been very gratifying. I think the participating building owners recognize that we are not just talking about historic preservation and revitalization, we’re actually doing it ourselves. I think this made more building owners more willing to participate. The impact of this program on the downtown I think is going to be pretty remarkable.

A couple of weeks ago we had an unexpected partial brick wall collapse at one of our buildings that we are in the midst of putting back together. The building was in terrible shape. We wanted to save the building and redevelop it into a StudioWorks facility combining working studio space and artist residency housing. When the collapse happened, the whole downtown was shut down. Thankfully no one was hurt. The response to this incident by the community was overwhelming. The City and the police were on the scene immediately. The Port Authority and others brought in equipment to help with the dismantling of the surrounding scaffolding that had also collapsed. The State of Maine, that has invested heavily in this redevelopment project, has been incredibly supportive since the collapse. New scaffolding is now in place. We still expect to partially open the StuidoWorks facility on June 1st. It will be a miracle. But it will be because the community (broadly speaking) wants this project to happen.

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