Building Bridges, Crossing Borders Through Art

Maine’s isolated Tides Institute and Museum of Art encourages artistic collaborations between artists and between countries.

Created on the Bay of Fundy in the tiny town of Eastport, Maine, the Tides Institute and Museum of Art (TIMA) established a wet-foot dry-foot policy early in its inception. All artists would be welcome to show their work and do residencies whether they came from the U.S., from over the border in Canada, from across the mile-wide strait from New Brunswick, or from across the Atlantic Ocean.

That was 15 years ago. Today TIMA and the town of Eastport—population 1,200—are riding high on art and innovation due to the imperative of their locale.

“We developed a Maine and New Brunswick [Canada] task force in 2010 so cultural leaders on both sides of the border could talk and meet. It’s the reason we started the institute,” says Executive Director Hugh French, who is one of TIMA’s founders. “There is too much of a tendency of stopping at the border in the U.S. and Canada while artists are crossing the border. It’s silly not to follow them.”

Interior of TIMA’s 1819 North Church Project Space with large scale installation, “Undertow,” by artist, Anna Hepler. Project space has 23 foot high vaulted ceiling and exceptional acoustics. Photo by Allison Osberg.

Interior of TIMA’s 1819 Free Will North Church Project Space with large-scale installation, “Undertow,” by artist, Anna Hepler. Project space has 23-foot high vaulted ceiling and exceptional acoustics. | Photo by Allison Osberg.

Eastport is located on Moose Island and connected to the mainland by a causeway. It sits at the entrance of Passamaquoddy Bay on the border of Canada and is at the most eastern part of the US. It’s a place you might expect to be a little sleepy, at least when it comes to the arts and innovation. But you’d be wrong.

TIMA, whose studio, museum and housing for artist residencies overlook the U.S./Canada boundary, is a beehive of artistic activity. Community renewal, an active residency program, and an aggressively diverse permanent collection are just a few of the parts that make up the institute’s game plan. That diversity is also one reason funding and artists are drawn to the space, French says.

“Early on we felt we had to operate on different interests. Architecture and history, for example,” says French. “Our collection includes painting, photography, architectural elements, a historical collection and a strong interest in contemporary work. We foster new work. That is the reason for our residency program—so contemporary work can be created here.”

Tides Institute and Museum of Art

Tides Institute and Museum of Art| Image courtesy TIMA

Last year’s TIMA’s residency program had nine artists—six from the U.S. and three from abroad. This year the program will host 10-12 artists. This summer a two-year collaboration between Portland, Maine photographer Shoshannah White and Halifax interdisciplinary artist Charley Young will have its premiere in an exhibition in the 1819 church now known as the Free Will North Church Project Space.

TIMA’s main building was the organization’s first regional revitalization effort, a strategy of cross disciplines that began 15 years ago when the organization began. “The long-term effort started with tackling a threatened crippled building in the center of downtown,” says French. “We put $1.2 million to bring the building back. Now we have six buildings.”

Tides Institute and Museum of Art New Year's Eve sardine drop | Image courtesy TIMA

Tides Institute and Museum of Art New Year’s Eve sardine drop | Image courtesy TIMA

Although Eastport is physically isolated, TIMA and the community are not. The populace comes together every year for “Artsipelago,” an event that includes galleries, chefs, and ferries. To celebrate yet another year of tides, TIMA annually organizes the New Year’s Eve Maple Leaf and Sardine Drop. During that popular event, a giant red maple leaf is lowered at midnight Atlantic time (11pm EST) to commemorate the Canadian new year while a brass band plays “O Canada.” An hour later, when the New Year reaches the States, an 8-foot sardine is lowered as the band plays “Auld Lang Syne.”

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Top image: View from the top of TIMA’s main building with a view of Eastport’s downtown and waterfront – all of the islands in the distance are in Canada. | Image courtesy TIMA
Janet ReynoldsBuilding Bridges, Crossing Borders Through Art

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