Location: Mount Desert Island, Maine
Project Team: Britney McCollem, Shannara Gilman, Rachel Sisson, Eliza Bishop, Elena Piekut, Danielle Byrd, Erika Flynn
Participating Artists: Danielle Byrd, Rachel Sisson, Darcy Whitten, Kat Jepson, Katie Dube, Justine Ortolf, Nina Wish, Tony Mullane, Chris Doyle, David Palazola, Tyler Weeks, Mylan MacAlevy, Nina Donghia, Pete Cuffari, Zach Soares, Caleb Davis, Annika Earley, Elena Piekut, students of MDES, Kathryn Hansis, Kelsey Taylor
545 & Co. // Rabbit, Rabbit Exhibitions – The Mount Desert Island area is home to hundreds of dedicated working artists: painters, actors, woodworkers, musicians, photographers, printmakers, poets, and filmmakers, to name a few. 545 & Co. is supporting our artists by organizing art shows, screenings, workshops, concerts, plays, and readings. Our inaugural event begins a series of art shows on the first of every month, which we’re calling Rabbit, Rabbit, after the old British superstition that for good luck, one should say “Rabbit, Rabbit” upon waking up on the first day of the month. Our larger goal is restore and renovate an old building, in order to offer artists’ studios, classrooms, equipment, and gallery and event space.
How are you making Maine a better place for young people?
I myself am not making Maine a better place for young people. I am giving young people the opportunity to make Maine a better place for themselves, and for their community. Since moving to Mount Desert Island in 2006, I knew at once that this place was undeniably, unmistakably unique. However, the seasonal nature of the town, as well as the local College of the Atlantic, makes for a transitory youth population. Many want to stay year-round, and many have skills and ambition to offer, but few are able to find the economic stability. I have met more talented, inspiring people on this island, and in this state, than I could even begin to count, but have seen the majority of them move – to New York, to Boston, to San Francisco, to Portland – where an established community of artists and musicians already exists. Last year, I followed suit and moved to Boston, lamenting that fact that Mount Desert Island could never be a mecca for young artists. Of course, Boston offered everything I could have wanted – any kind of music whenever I wanted to hear it, an abundance of artists to collaborate with, galleries at every turn, performances in the streets – but I just wasn’t happy. Within 9 months, I was back in Bar Harbor. Homeless, yes. But happy.
Soon after, with a small, dedicated group of ladies, the generosity of local businesses, and a whole bunch of anxious, excited artists, 545 & Co. was born, with two pairs of rabbit ears.
What challenges in your community are you addressing?
Our most palpable, pressing challenge at this moment would be a lack of available studio and practice spaces for artists and musicians, and few community gallery spaces downtown. An unfriendly housing market provides limited opportunities for year-round renters, which generally leads to frequent moving from place to place. Most artists that I know work out of a tiny little corner in their bedroom, or a suitcase, or a cardboard box. It’s really not very conducive to creating anything. Trust me. I’ve tried it. And like many small, seasonal towns in Maine, we rely heavily on summer tourism to make a living. Hectic summers and hard winters are strangers to few, and all too often our art and music ventures are the first to suffer. We are waiters, bartenders, line cooks, landscapers, gardeners, cashiers, housekeepers. We work in the summer and we try to survive the winter, because we refuse to leave. We are a demographic of artists that does not fit aesthetically into the niche art scene, so popular among summer tourists, which perpetuates a stereotypical, idealized representation of life in Maine, and which excludes us from our own community.
Who will benefit from your idea? How will people access and learn about the work you are doing?
545 & Co. aims not only to establish a space for artists to create their art and express themselves, but also share their work with our community through classes, events, and collaborations with other non-profit organizations and schools, both in the surrounding county and throughout Downeast Maine. Through our monthly art showcases, or Rabbit, Rabbit exhibitions, we are bringing artists, local businesses, schools and community members together on the first of every month, for the first time ever, in order to premier works of up-and-coming artists, who otherwise might not have the opportunity to show. Furthermore, through these events, as well as donations and grants, we intend on restoring and renovating an old, dilapidated space in downtown Bar Harbor, not only improving the overall aesthetic of our town, but also redirecting summer foot-traffic towards businesses on the outskirts.
What major successes would you like to see at the end or apex of your project?
At the summit of this project, I want to look upon this island and see, somewhere amidst an abundance of hotels and tourist shops, a dusty, decaying space finally remembered and restored. It’s a mid-summer night, and the air is mild and refreshing after a hot day. The doors of our gallery are swung wide open, with string lights and lanterns illuminating the gathering, and the sound of live music swirling through the air. Among the faces, I see college students, perhaps still new to the community and unfamiliar with many of the other guests, I see locals, many of whom moved here decades ago and have raised families, I see 20-somethings, 30-somethings, 40-somethings, some I know, some I have yet to meet, I see kids chasing each other, I see local businesses owners, and I see friends. On the walls, I see art everywhere – hanging from the ceiling, adorning the walls, residing in the corner, or the center of the room. I see a cocktail waiter with a tray of complimentary drinks, and appetizers made by enterprising and creative young caterers. Perhaps most importantly, though, I see passers-by wandering by, and welcomed in, where they experience our community from the inside out, not through a lens, or a postcard, or a t-shirt, or a table at a restaurant.
This is a night in the life of our project. This space will give our islands’ artists the ability to work for themselves, and contribute their creativity and skills to our community, bolstering our economic independence, our population, and our spirits.