Each of us knows many special qualities that make Maine recognizable across the country and around the world. Yet Maine means more than pine trees and lobsters, the slogan “you can’t get there from here” and blueberry barrens. Beyond the stereotypes, our engaged communities make Maine and its citizens unique. They are the essence of our quality of life.
While others might focus intensely on the pursuit of transient status symbols and flashy baubles for their own sake, most Mainers retain a deeper connection to transcendent values that spring from meaningful work, a stunning natural landscape and our bountiful diversity of cultural organizations — from public libraries and arts centers to historical societies, local granges and venues for the performing arts. Most importantly of all, public education strives to ensure that all Maine children and adults have equal access to the knowledge and skills that create the best of our way of life.
The public universities throughout our state, and particularly the University of Maine flagship campus in Orono, play a crucial role in nurturing our imagination about how life should be. The University of Maine Humanities Initiative is a new organization assisting and encouraging UMaine staff, faculty and students to collaborate more effectively with one another, public and private organizations, as well as K-12 schools. The initiative is another example of how we are advancing our collective exploration, testing and creation of Maine as an exemplar of the way life should be.
The UMaine Humanities Initiative’s first major public programming will occur in Orono, Bangor and Augusta next week, May 13-17. This full week of activities includes presentations and events led by faculty and staff from five colleges and universities in Maine, more than a dozen public institutions from Bangor High School to the Portland Public Library, and local and statewide political leaders. Our participants are united by an enthusiastic commitment to work together to better understand the meaning of public life and what we value as citizens in an era when both are undergoing significant changes.
The contributions by UMaine faculty and staff reflect how individuals from more than 25 departments and units are excited to share their expertise and learn from one another and the broader public. The entire week of activities is free and open to the public, and we urge you to look at our diverse range of programming online at http://umaine.edu/umhi/spring-events/ and then attend the parts of it you find most appealing. We encourage — and value — everyone’s participation and perspectives.
We are especially looking forward to the terrific events planned in downtown Bangor on Wednesday, May 15, in partnership with four pillars of our regional arts and humanities community: the UMaine Museum of Art, Penobscot Theatre, Bangor Public Library and Maine Discovery Museum. The daylong activities include presentations about visual and performing arts, the richness and variety of book culture, discussions about how we connect classrooms with cultural organizations and a walking tour of downtown Bangor.
What are the humanities? You’ll know it when you live it, if you come to the UMaine Humanities Initiative’s collaborative celebration at the Maine Discovery Museum May 15 starting at 5 p.m. There will be music by two bands, an art show curated by middle and high school students in the UMMA’s Young Curators program, refreshments and other activities to help inaugurate the Penobscot Theatre production “Around the World in Eighty Days.”
Please join us to live the humanities and celebrate the way life should be in Maine.
Liam Riordan is an associate professor of history at the University of Maine and a board member of both the UMaine Humanities Initiative and the Maine Humanities Council. Niles Parker is the executive director of the Maine Discovery Museum in downtown Bangor.