Blueberry season and tourist season overlap. Tourism is not necessarily a bad thing. Here in Down East Maine they have saved the economy. They have done so, in large part, by purchasing the arts. During high summer one can find innumerable music festivals, theatrical productions, film series (yes, foreign films, too!), and visual art and photography exhibitions.
W were in Belfast yesterday. The former industrial and fishing community, lying about 45 minutes south of us has had deep economic woes in recent decades. We were visiting a community arts center where a posthumous retrospective of photographs by a much-loved local newspaper photographer was on view. The photos captured the town in the eighties, although the feel was more that of the fifties.
We had a lively, lengthy conversation with one of the organizations administrators, who spoke at length about recent profound changes in the community, which had been resurrected by an influx of artists. Apparently the artists had lured the tourists, whose dollars fed the community. Indeed, there were a number of galleries and craft shops, as well as posters for a wide range of arts related events. Plein air painters were seemingly everywhere. (One informed us they were all attending a local workshop.)
Today, as we looked back on the conversation, we wondered what the future might hold for the Belfast artist community. Often, a lively and successful arts scene lures wealthy folks who buy second homes, drive up property values and force out the very art scene they moved closer to enjoy. After the artists leave, the children of the locals soon find themselves unable to afford housing. Before long the community has changed beyond recognition.
Belfast is not that far from the burgeoning community of Rockland, or maybe 45 minutes further from Portland is just too far for large-scale development. Still, too many summer homes can wreck things for the artists, locales, and wildlife.
Fortunately, Down East Maine is not NYC. Perhaps the community will find a creative, sustainable path forward. We wish them well.