Alison Hildreth, David Wolfe, Katarina Weslien – artists who are participating in the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association Art Show, and Caila Gorniewicz, Development Manager at MCFA (Kelli Park photo)

PORTLAND — Maine’s gritty working waterfront is joining forces with a Portland art studio to support the state’s fishermen.

The unlikely collaboration between the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association and The Bakery Studios will culminate in an art show and fundraiser from 5-7 p.m., Thursday, April 18, at the gallery, 61 Pleasant St., Portland. The Bakery Studios is home to sculptors, photographers, poets, painters, printmakers, and multimedia artists. Artists will donate pieces of artwork to the fundraising event and proceeds from art sales will go toward the association’s efforts to preserve the working waterfront.

Local artist Alison Hildreth wanted to find a way to involve the arts community in supporting Portland’s working waterfront after watching “12 Little Wharves,” a documentary produced by the fishermen’s association. She

reached out to Monique Coombs, director of marine programs at the association, with an idea for a collaborative arts show featuring the work of artists who rent studio space at The Bakery Studios, including The Peregrine Press, a nonprofit printmaking cooperative with 30 members.

“I grew up in Portland and the waterfront was a big part of the community,” Hildreth said. “I can see that it’s a job to preserve the space that (fishermen) have — parking for bait to be delivered, etc. This is something that we can do to help out in a small way. … We share the city. We want to have a working waterfront that is vibrant and feels secure.”

The ongoing development of the working waterfront in Portland and across coastal Maine has sparked controversies property use and property rights around the water. In December 2018, the Portland City Council enacted a six-month moratorium on development along its working waterfront and established a Working Waterfront Group, consisting of individuals involved in waterfront industries, to explore solutions for a variety of issues, including zoning regulations, traffic problems, and wharf access.

“We need to compete with uses that don’t need to be there. It is an issue,” said Steve Train, a lobsterman who fishes out of Portland. “Anything we do that raises awareness of the competition we have for the use of Commercial Street and those wharves is a good thing.”

The connection between the working waterfront and the arts community in Maine is multi-faceted, to say the least. The fishing industry inspires artists in the same way that it sustains local culture and heritage: with its own salt-of-the-earth style. The working waterfront is a destination for artists seeking inspiration in authentic cultural experiences that have survived for generations.

“The Portland waterfront draws so many artists because of what it has here,” Train said. “They’re not coming to paint pictures of hotels and condominiums. They’re painting pictures of what’s happening on the waterfront.”

Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association has adopted the mission of ensuring that fishermen are equipped with the infrastructure and resources to sustain working waterfronts with advocacy, education, outreach, collaborative projects and events. The art show fundraiser is the first hosted by the organization and, in addition to the artists of The Bakery Studios, will bring in Rising Tide Brewery and Mami Food Truck, which will serve Japanese street food featuring fresh scallops provided by local fishermen.

“It’s a great collaboration to highlight everything that makes Maine unique — the history, the culture, the community,” said Claila Gorniewicz, development manager at the fishermen’s association. “There’s no better way to highlight those coastal communities, that way of life, and all that the fishing industry has to offer. Working with individuals who are apart of that culture and with others who have spent their lives making artwork based on their experiences lets us tie all of that together.”

For more information, visit mainecoastfishermen.org.

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