One of our favorite works of art in Maine is a series of charcoal drawings on paper squares about 2 feet on a side and pasted like posters on the outer wall of a little café called Java Joe’s in Farmington, where they are slowly dissolved by the weather.
The simple and poignant portraits, by the artist known as Pigeon (aka Orson Horchler), depict a wide array of humanity, different races, faces, different hairstyles, smiles, frowns, types of dress, hopes and dreams implied. The title of the work, printed in large letters on the brick wall above, is simple, too: Mainers. The artist has explained that his subjects were all born abroad but all live and work now in Maine. The owner of the café recently asked Pigeon back to reinstall the temporary work. Why? Because people like it.
If a work of art can offer welcome, an artist can, too.
And that’s how The Other Inaugural Ball – coming on Jan. 21 – was born. A gallery owner, a painter, a writer, then another, a singer, a printmaker, and then our friends, and their friends, and their children, and their neighbors, conversations about what positive contribution we might make in what was starting to feel like a negative environment, how we might form a coalition that would grow into a network of mutual support that depends on everyone, all shapes and sizes, that accommodates difference (including political difference), that can and will not only endure but thrive, get us all through the inevitable crises to come.
We felt that rather than despair in the wake of recent blanket denouncements of certain religions, certain races, various ethnic groups, certain nationalities, certain political factions, and rather than remain passive in the face of vandalism and hate mongering both subtle and overt, we’d try to come together, make a statement together. A statement both simple and complex: diversity brings riches, and we Mainers are the beneficiaries of these riches. And as such, we must all show one another gratitude, must not only work together, but celebrate together. Our little group, being Maine artists, quickly became a bigger group, and then bigger yet, reaching out beyond the arts, Mainers showing one another gratitude, expressing our joy at being part of the great American tradition of immigration.
It’s the shared duty of all Americans, and certainly of Mainers, to ensure that the guarantee of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, which is at the core of the American experiment, is held out to the newest among us. That we put out the welcome mat, and more than that, continue to offer the assistance and protections that keep our own lives feeling secure. And take action to face the reality of fear, like children hearing news reports that might just refer to them or their parents, like store owners wondering who’s painted slurs on the walls of their American dream. That in the process of becoming new Mainers, we become we. That we – this new, magnificent we – make use of all the building blocks at our disposal, that we work from common interest toward the common goal of inclusion, true community, universal acceptance.
We thought a day of art would be the best response to the inauguration going on down in D.C. We wouldn’t spark further division by barking out demands or complaints or diatribes or insults. Instead, a ball, The Other Inaugural Ball, which would bring together all corners of the community for a night of fun, communication, positive fellow feeling.
And why not bring in all of the arts – musicians, dancers, writers, painters, performers, actors, on and on? And rather than a single evening bash, why not use some of the wonderful gallery spaces in town to show work by people who care, to hear the voices of our best poets – Reza Jalali, Wes McNair, Gibson Fay-LeBlanc, Portland’s poet laureate and Betsy Sholl, former Maine poet laureate – to put on view the work of our best artists – Abby Shahn, Accra Shepp and Peter Rolston – to dance to the spins of DJ32French; to experience the wonderful Theater Ensemble of Color; to eat food from all the corners of the world that have come together to build our contemporary Maine.
Keynote speaker Fatuma Hussein, founder of the Immigrant Resource Center of Maine, will speak directly to the refugee experience, the importance of courage, and why immigrants help Maine thrive.
Together we can solve all the problems we face. Apart, the problems will only multiply.