Artsipelago is an initiative led by the Tides Institute & Museum of Art in Eastport, Maine on the U.S./Canada border. It is located in a rural, relatively remote, and sparsely populated region consisting of an array of peninsulas, islands and small communities with an international boundary going down the middle. Half American, half Canadian with a significant, long standing Native American (Passamaquoddy) population. The largest of the region’s communities have only a couple of thousand people, most have only a few hundred. Many of these communities have experienced steep, long term population decline precipitated by the collapse and complete disappearance of the sardine canning industry. But there is an uptick in activity that has begun in earnest. One can feel It in Eastport’s small downtown and on the ferries that criss-cross the region’s international Passamaquoddy Bay with its 26 foot high tides — the highest in the continental U.S. Artsipelago’s goals are to fuel this uptick by leveraging and converging the region’s related arts and cultural initiatives, by linking and expanding them in innovative, overlapping, transformative and vitalizing ways.
ArtPlace spoke with Hugh French, Director of the Tides Institute & Museum of Art, to describe its Artsipelago project and how it will increase vibrancy in its location.
ARTPLACE: What is your elevator pitch when you describe your project to people?
FRENCH: Artsipelago involves strengthening connections between related arts and cultural initiatives, existing and new and with tie-ins to other sectors, to build greater critical mass, to create greater synergy. This is a rural, remote area of few people and resources. To build critical mass, connections, and synergies here demands working with many and across sectors in imaginative and innovative ways. These are keys to revitalization.
ARTPLACE: How do you expect to increase vibrancy in the place you are working?
FRENCH: Everything Artsipelago does involves building connections, critical mass, and creative synergies. This region is very small in numbers. But we’re big in ideas. Ideas are where we can compete with anybody.
We’re working to reinvent an annual regionwide studio tour into a year round cultural guide and tour complete with an art boat and art pass and bring local food/local music/local craft into the mix particularly during the region’s festivals.
We’ve purchased a key historic building smack in the middle of Eastport’s small downtown and waterfront. It was about to fall down. We’re working to restore and redevelop the building into a year round StudioWorks facility complete with printmaking, letterpress, and digital equipment and technologies on the ground floor with its big storefront windows. It looks right out to the downtown and waterfront, out to Passamaquoddy Bay and to Canada. It’s very dramatic. We’ll develop housing on the second floor of this facility and develop a new year round visiting artist residency program.
We want working artists going about their work front and center right in the thick of the downtown. We want them engaged with the downtown and surrounding communities during festivals and during other times of the year. We want them offering workshops and classes that will bring more people downtown and, in turn, foster more activity and businesses. We want people peering in the storefront windows from the outside. We want them to wander in. We want artists to wander outside and throughout the downtown and onto the ferries.
We want people to be able to say, “Artsipelago. I know where that is. That’s cool. I want to go there.”