Can you imagine a society without the creative influence of the arts and culture? The arts are fundamental to our existence, to our humanity. They foster creativity, beauty, and goodness, bring us joy, help us express ourselves, and build bridges between cultures. Art is alive at the Abbe—from the music escaping our galleries to the exhibits that are full of energy and imagination—the arts offer a kind of learning that can only enhance every other understanding. Art is important in society because it communicates across barriers of language, class, and culture. It elicits a visceral reaction when words alone often cannot. The pleasure people take in art—their response—is in itself a meaningful event.
From this beautiful spot in Bar Harbor, on a jagged rock reaching into the Atlantic, the cragged shores, woodland trails, and calming lakes of this place have lured artists for generations. Wabanaki people are part of this artistic tradition and they have been here, in their homeland on Mount Desert Island, for thousands of generations. During the Rusticator era (the 1840s to 1920s), for example, Wabanaki people helped make Bar Harbor and the island attractive to visitors – making art and selling it to ensure cultural survival for many art forms.
Wabanaki artists’ working as educators, mentors, and citizens of our community is vital to a healthy and vibrant civic life. Currency in art has a beautiful double meaning – it’s about cultural relevance as well as economics. Tribal communities in Maine experience record unemployment (60%) and poverty rates (30%). Our strategic plan, which launched in August 2015, identifies important investments the Abbe can make to benefit Wabanaki artists and their communities.
To pinpoint what the Abbe could do to boost Wabanaki creativity and broaden marketplace access, we convened 12 Wabanaki artists in 2014 for a creative summit about the current state and future of Native art in Maine. Through facilitated activities, we developed a list of big ideas which informed our strategic plan and planted the seed for exciting new projects, including the Abbe Museum Indian Market (AMIM), debuting May 18-20, 2018. As Passamaquoddy Master Basketmaker Geo Neptune said recently:
“Wabanaki artists have been gaining momentum in the Indian art world, claiming ribbons at world-famous Indian markets across the country. As Northeastern indigenous art—and more specifically, Wabanaki art—continues to gain the attention of collectors from around the world, I believe that Bar Harbor is poised to become the “Santa Fe” of the Northeast—a place where visitors from many walks of life come to experience Indigenous North American history and culture. Given the Abbe’s history of working with Wabanaki people and the admirable goals set by their current strategic plan, I am confident that the Abbe Museum is the only organization that is able, with the support of its community and partners, to make this dream become a reality.”
We envision Bar Harbor as THE destination for Northeastern Native art. Wabanaki artists will be at the core of this regional economic success story. Our creative placemaking initiatives will grow, including, but not limited to, public art projects, artist residencies, and a creative brand. Supporting these projects can help reimagine the past and present, transform the future, and experience possibility. By supporting Wabanaki art and artists, you will influence economic and community growth and create an active and vibrant society. There is nothing more inspiring to an artist than someone's faith in the value of their work.
The Abbe Museum Indian Market and other projects to come will have show-stopper qualities that will take Wabanaki art to audiences that would otherwise never be exposed to it. You can help support this important creative placemaking initiative by donating to the newly created Giving Circle for Wabanaki art and artists. Our goal this year is to raise $10,000!