November 08, 2019
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In Eastport, cultural offerings bring vitality, people and dollars

Bill Trotter | BDN
Bill Trotter | BDN
A man walks along Main Street in downtown Eastport in August past the reflection in a store window of the city's well-known fisherman statue.

While few would argue that Eastport does not have challenges, the Oct. 14 BDN article, “In fits and starts, this shrinking coastal Maine city keeps fighting to reinvent itself,” misses the mark. I will speak to that which I know: cultural resources, the driving economic force in this community.

There is so much going on here there is no way I can attend all the events. Friends who visited this summer and fall were astonished by how much there is to do here in addition to being “wowed” by the uncommon natural beauty of our seaside island. They also spent their dollars here in the shops, restaurants and on tours.

Eastport looks beyond and attracts from beyond, as well as supporting home-grown activity, a dynamic necessary to understand how Eastport has far more cultural offerings than communities of similar size elsewhere.

Consider the recent Ed Asner and local artists production of two sold-out performances at the Eastport Arts Center. At the Sunday performance I attended, about a third of the hands went up when asked how many had never been to the Arts Center previously. Likewise, about the same number indicated they were from beyond Washington County.

This is but one example of how the Arts Center has for decades been both rooted in the community and connected to the world beyond. The Arts Center serves multiple cultural interests from presenting performances and hosting our regional symphony orchestra to providing a premier space for all sorts of community participatory events, films and exhibitions.

The Tides Institute is the only such regional collecting, preservation and intellectual history organization that understands its mission must be inclusive of the entire Atlantic Maritime Rim from which resources may be and have been accessed. Tides also has established a terrific long-term artist residency program that brings noted artists from Maine and beyond to interpret through creation their singular experiences here. There are open studios, lectures and programs for young people. Moreover, Tides has saved several of the most important historic buildings in town, structures that define Eastport’s character.

Over 15 years ago a group of visionary women put together The Commons, a top-notch gallery and contemporary crafts retail store downtown and committed themselves to year-round operation. Former Bangor mayor John Rohman, with whom I worked closely, encouraged The Commons’ founders, citing them as exemplars of Maine’s developing creative economy, an initiative for which Maine was the only state to receive commendation from the National Endowment for the Arts.

We also have a terrific library which, will get any book you want and get it fast. I was saved by the library before I had internet installed.

These are but a few of Eastport’s many assets, which along with the incredible number of artists who make their home here, charge up this place with vitality. Snapshots of Eastport’s downtown taken in five-year intervals over the past 20 years are visible proof of what has happened here.

Let us also not minimize the contributions of seasonal residents, many of whom are here the majority of the year, for they bring not only financial resources but also experiences from elsewhere that, when combined with local tenacity, wisdom and inventiveness, make this the vibrant community it is. I am told the population doubles in the summer, which surely makes a huge difference not only in Eastport’s tax base but also by providing helping hands for the work needed in any healthy community.

There really is no other place in Maine like Eastport. For all its problems, we should celebrate— not denigrate — Eastport’s assets and achievements and those who pitch in here to make a difference in what the community is all about. We need to tell our story.

In June, when I returned to Maine after a dozen years in Southern California, I could have chosen anywhere to live in the state but Eastport called. The moment I opened the door of the house I was about to purchase, I knew I was home.

Alden Chandler lives in Eastport. Formerly Alden Wilson, he is a former executive director of the Maine Arts Commission.

 



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