BANGOR, Maine — Moments after she stepped off a plane at Bangor International Airport, Sue Clifford could see a few differences between Maine and her home in England as she scanned some photographs on a wall near the airport’s baggage-claim area.
“Those moose, of course, they catch my eye first,” said Clifford, the founder of the internationally known organization Common Ground, based in Dorset, England. “And that church steeple, you’d never see anything like that, but there’s something about its shape which I recognize. And look at those [fall] colors. I can’t think of anywhere in England that would look like that.”
Clifford is hoping her participation in a six-day, six-town event in Washington County and New Brunswick will encourage other communities to celebrate their differences, too.
The Tides Institute & Museum of Art in Eastport is welcoming Clifford as part of “Parish Maps: England to America, Building a Sense of Place Through the Work of Common Ground,” which starts Sunday.
Clifford will travel the region to conduct workshops on Common Ground’s Parish Maps Project. This is her first trip to the U.S. for the specific purpose of presenting the project, although some communities in the U.S. have made their own versions of parish maps.
“The idea of coming right up here to the borderland was hugely attractive,” Clifford said. “What I’m hoping to do is to show what other [communities] have done and to lift [the local communities’] aspirations about what they might do, and to add to the different ways of looking after their everyday surroundings.”
The feature event of “Parish Maps” will be a panel discussion, “Public Art & Sense of Place,” at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 13, at Shead High School in Eastport. The panel includes Clifford, along with writer, activist and curator Lucy Lippard of Galisteo, N.M., Ron Shuebrook, who is the past president of the Ontario College of Art & Design in Toronto, and artist Hamish Fulton of Canterbury, England.
The workshops kick off at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Lubec Library. Monday’s workshop will start at 7 p.m. at the Homestead in Calais. On Tuesday the workshop will be held at 7 p.m. at Kingsbrae Gardens in St. Andrews, New Brunswick. Wednesday’s workshop will be at 1 p.m. at Pembroke Elementary School in Pembroke, and on Friday Clifford will be in Dennysville at 7 p.m. at Lincoln Library.
All events are free and open to the public.
Common Ground, founded in the early 1980s, seeks to link nature and art while focusing on what it calls local distinctiveness, a term the group claims to have invented.
Common Ground’s parish maps are not necessarily cartographically correct, but rather highlight a certain aspect of a community. It’s up to the community itself to pick what the focus of the map will be, whether an area’s natural elements or architecture or history.
“It’s saying to people, what is it you care about in your place,” Clifford said. “How are you going to get together to ensure the future intensifies the good things? The message is universal [whether it’s] Alabama, Maine, Latvia, West Africa. You can make it yours.”
The project is also an attempt to resist homogenization of places, Clifford added, which has happened worldwide with the proliferation of chain stores and restaurants.
“This came out of an increasing knowledge that people really valued the fact that their place was different from the next, …” Clifford said. “Your place may be a few miles from somebody over there, but actually your history is different, your geology, your nature and your own story is different.”
For information, contact the Tides Institute & Art Museum at 853-4047 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.