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Bern Porter baptizing Carlo Pittore at his 80th-birthday celebration (photo: Mark Melnicove).

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Birthday celebration parade (photo: Peggy Mckenna, courtesy of the Penobscot Marine Museum,

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Bern Porter and Mark Melnicove (photo: Peggy Mckenna, courtesy of the Penobscot Marine Museum,

Noisemakers, broccoli headdresses, a baptism, and papier-maché breasts = art and community. Add in some performance art, a pageant, and parade, a baguette with eighty candles—and you have Bern Porter’s eightieth-birthday party in downtown Belfast, Maine on 9 March 1991. It was a community celebration of the founder of the Institute of Advanced Thinking, a poet and artist, a physicist, an eccentric, a compatriot of Henry Miller and Anais Nin, and so much more. (Click on images below for credits.)


An evening overlooking the Bay of Belfast with fine food and wine, Mayor Sanders as auctioneer, and FINALLY time with friends mostly unmasked as they peruse and bid upon the works of local artists = art and community. Add in an (almost) post-pandemic party that was sold out before anyone was even invited and you have the “From The Forest to The Sea” celebration of Al and Lorna Crichton, in downtown Belfast on 23 June 2022. Al and Lorna are the founders of Waterfall Arts, artists, and beloved community treasures who came to Waldo County in the 1970s as part of the “Back to the Land” movement. After twenty years of nurturing and feeling that their creation has matured into a healthy and stable enterprise, they have both now stepped away to spend more time with family and their own creative endeavors.

Thirty years separate those two celebrations, both of which speak to the creative spirit that has helped to define Belfast for over four decades. In the early 1970s, young artists and hopeful idealists descended on the Mid-Coast of Maine, finding their way from across the Northeast and beyond to the rocky coast, the salt farms, and the inland woods and waters. They found Belfast, which became a hub, bought or built inexpensive housing, planted their gardens, raised their families, and created a community that survives to this day as a healthy and vibrant source of creativity and fellowship. How does it survive today and how has it changed?

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Waterfall Arts.

While the early days were ad hoc, many of the organizations that serve the artists and art-loving public today are more formally structuredbut Belfast still prides itself on keeping the funkiness and fun of those early days. A city of nearly 7,000 residents, Belfast remains a community that boisterously and joyously celebrates the arts. The times and the venues change, the people change, the art changes, but the enthusiasm endures. Porter was here when chicken guts spilled into the harbor and feathers filled the air, when Frederick Wiseman made the raw documentary film Belfast, Maine (1999). By the time of Waterfall’s “From The Forest to The Sea” gala, the water and harbor had long been cleaned for pleasure boating. The community now comprises more remote workers and retirees looking for a quieter place, as well as entrepreneurs and organic farmers escaping the stress of urban life. Many of them are drawn by the strength of the art community, the independence, and the natural landscape for which Belfast has become known.

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Al and Lorna Crichton at the “From The Forest to The Sea” gala, 23 June 2022 (photo: Chris Battaglia, courtesy of Waterfall Arts).

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Guests and artwork at the Crichton Gala, 23 June 2022 (photo: Chris Battaglia, courtesy
of Waterfall Arts).









The Institute of Advanced Thinking died with Bern Porter in 2004, though for some the memory lives onas well as in a 2010 Bern Porter exhibit at MoMAas do many of the dreams and people: Mary Weaver, an impresario who staged parades through downtown Belfast every year, and who is still a force in the Belfast cultural scene; Jay Davis, the journalist and author who has long supported the arts in Belfast; Mike Hurley, who became Belfast’s forward-thinking mayor; and Mark Melnicove, Porter’s performance art partner, a writer, publisher, and educator who is helping to keep that memory alive with a soon-to-be published piece by Daisy Editions in France. These are just a few examples of those who shared Bern Porter’s Belfast days and steadfastly remain engaged.

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Allyn Street Rangeway, a gift from Waterfall Arts to the community in 2010. Allyn Street Rangeway was part of a public project by Waterfall in 2010 to install markers at the public ranges down to the water. They did maybe two or three, and this is the most prominent one (photo: Gianne Conard).

Waterfall Arts, the community arts center started in 2000 as a free-wheeling summer program of happenings in the woods of Montville, has evolved into a year-round educational and exhibiting organization that supports artists and brings art to the residents of Waldo County and beyond. In 2006, they moved into the old Governor Anderson Elementary School and have been offering classes, studios, exhibits, events, and much more ever since. Waterfall has four public subscription studios: clay, printmaking, darkroom, and the only public glass blowing studio in Maine, where they offer classes to the public, to high school art students, and to the Belfast Community Outreach Program in Education. While Waterfall was founded before Belfast was discovered by the throngs of new residents that are currently sending real estate sky high, it is one of the stated reasons that people come here. As part of the creative economy, Waterfall is a vital and innovative organization that offers free and low-cost opportunities to residents and visitors. During the height of the COVID pandemic, they continued to engage through online and outdoor classes and gatherings, such as fireside story-telling and kids and family outreach in the parks. This September Maine native and multidisciplinary artist Pippin Frisbie-Calder was artist-in-residence; her art focuses on extinction and was presented through community engagement and public events, and is part of Waterfall’s ongoing reach into environmental concerns and the arts.

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Betty the ARTVan (photo: Courtesy of BCC).

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Betty the ARTVan (photo: Courtesy of BCC).

From colorful crosswalks, embellished life-sized bears, and imaginative public seating to Art Walk and Betty the ARTVan, the City of Belfast, Our Town Belfast, and the Belfast Creative Coalition (doing business as ARTivism in Maine) have all supported and celebrated public art. Betty the Brilliant ARTVan (her full name) is a collaborative art vision project dreamed into being by members of ARTivism, led by arts activist Larraine Brown. Betty journeys into neighborhoods, initiates, and attends events around Waldo and Knox Counties and beyond, offering art projects, bubbles, bells, music, theater, and dance. During the holidays she brings gifts and food. She is painted by artist Krista Odom, and several dozen volunteer craftspeople, headed up by Norman Kehling. Children and adults add to her splendor by contributing their own art to her “open to all things” side. BCC’s Arts in Activism conference “What’s Art Got To Do With It” in 2019 brought hundreds of people together to discuss through performance, theater, and master classes the depths of the opioid crisis, and they will be doing it again this fall (4–6 November 2022). As in so many communities, Art Walk draws throngs of people to downtown, and galleries both public (such as the Belfast Free Library) and private (Local Color, Chase’s) continue to provide local artists a venue for their work.

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Second Mid-Coast Salon gathering, 10 January 2019 at the Searsport home of Fredrick and Joy Kuhn. David Estey, Jack Silverio, Russell Kahn, Kerstin Engman, Lesia Sochor, Stephen Costanza, Joy Kuhn, Liv Kristin Robinson, and Brett Thompson.

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Kenny Cole, Fredrick Kuhn, David Estey, Michael Corden, and Lesia Sochor reviewing Kerstin Engman’s work in David’s Belfast home studio.

Amid the very public art scene there is a quieter community of artists who participate in the Mid-Coast Art Salon, founded by artist David Estey. Every month, a group of artists (many of whom are mentioned elsewhere in this article) come together to share work, ideas, and concerns. While they originally met in each other’s studios, they have been able to maintain contact and momentum throughout the pandemic via Zoom. Some months, they present their own work for discussion. Other months, they discuss a topic that someone brings forth. Always, the conversation is honest and insightful. Last year, they had a group show in both Portland and Belfast. The members have individual shows around Maine and periodically write articles for this and other publications. It is a community of mutual support and respect, allowing those in an inherently solo endeavor to connect with each other and the world beyond. (See, for instance, this spring 2020 MAJ article.)

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Third Mid-Coast Salon gathering, 7 February 2019 at the Waterfall Arts studio of Kerstin Engman in Belfast: Fredrick Kuhn, Joy Kuhn, Kerstin Engman, Liv Kristin Robinson, and David Estey.

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Lesia Sochor, Carol Sloane, and Liv Kristin Robinson presenting her work on 17 October 2019 at the home of Russell Kahn in Belfast.

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Fredrick Kuhn, David Estey, Joy Kuhn, Kerstin Engman, and Liv Kristin Robinson discussing Kris’s work in her Waterfall Arts studio in Belfast, 7 February 2019, at the third Mid-Coast Salon gathering. .

How do all these intersect? Al and Lorna were at Bern Porter’s birthday celebration. Porter built his unique brand as provocateur in the same community where back-to-the-landers created Artfellows, the cooperative gallery, in 1980 (see MAJ article). Artfellows, now defunct, was a major force for over ten years, and many of those participants are still active in Belfast. Artists such as Harold Garde, Liv Kristin Robinson, and Lesia Sochor have been part of the community for decades, and remain supporters of the salon, Waterfall, and other endeavors. So many people and their overlapping connections are part of what makes Belfast such a special place for artists and the people that support them. For decades, it has produced a sense of opportunity, welcoming, and making room for each individual. From the dada-esque performance art of the beloved but cantankerous Bern Porter to the gentle, yet adventurous happenings beneath the waterfalls in the Kingdom in Montville, and well into the present day with Betty the ARTVan and Waterfall’s community-wide, free reprise of Al and Lorna’s wild and wacky Poets and Fools parties, art and community continues to be a major thread in the tapestry of Belfast.

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Mike Hurley, Artfellows, wood, letters and paint, 8 x 17 in., 2021.


Image at top: Bern Porter’s birthday celebration parade (photo: Peggy Mckenna, courtesy of the Penobscot Marine Museum, The celebration was organized by the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance and the Union of Maine Visual Artists.