The Portland Museum of Art is looking for emerging artists across New England who are exploring ideas of sustainability and climate change, and has created a cash award to recognize and encourage them.

The Tidal Shift Award seeks entries of up to five pieces of art from artists ages 14 to 22 who are making work that relates to the climate crisis or that proposes solutions. The museum will award three $5,000 cash prizes to artists ages 19 to 22 and three $2,500 cash prizes for artists 14 to 18 years old.

The PMA is partnering with the Climate Initiative, a Kennebunkport-based organization with a goal of empowering youth to solve the climate crisis. It is funded by King Philanthropies, which was founded by Bob and Dottie King of Kennebunkport and supports climate-change solutions.

“The real work is going to be done by the next generation, not my generation,” said museum director Mark Bessire. “My generation has not done a very good job. The best thing we can do is empower young people so they can make change. Art brings people together, and artists are really good about envisioning the future but also really good at seeing the moment in a way that we don’t see for a few years.”

The awards are open to artists in the six New England states and the Abenaki, Maliseet, Micmac, Mohegan, Narragansett, Nauset, Nipmuc, Passamaquoddy, Pennacook, Penobscot, Pequot, Wabanaki, Wampanoag and Woronoco nations. In its explanation of rules, the PMA encourages artists of racial, ethnic and gender diversity “to create a work of art contemplating an issue and/or a solution to a crisis facing your community resulting from climate change.” Participants can use any medium, including painting, printmaking, photography, sculpture, video and paper or a combination of media, as long it meets specific size requirements.

A five-person jury will select winners, who will be announced on Earth Day in April. The submission window is open, and the deadline is Jan. 20. Finalists will be announced Feb. 28. Details about the initiative are available at a new website created by the PMA,


It’s a Maine-centric jury:

• Samaa Abdurraqib, associate director at the Maine Humanities Council and a leader of the national organization Outdoor Afro, which connects Black people to one another and to nature through outdoor experiences;

• Zanagee Artis, a 21-year-old from Connecticut studying at Brown University and a key member of climate-justice organization Zero Hour;

• Sophie Davis, a musician – and Waldoboro native – who uses music and art to raise awareness of climate change as a founding member of the ensemble Halcyon and through other musical pursuits;

• Darren Ranco, chair of Native American Programs at the University of Maine and protector of Wabanaki culture through his work as a member of the Penobscot Tribal Rights and Resources Protection Board and other consulting work with museums;

• Dave Reidmiller, director of the Climate Center at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute.


By connecting artists with the jurors, the museum may help spur connections that lead to climate solutions, said Graeme Kennedy, director of strategic communications and public relations for the museum. “We cannot do it alone, but the PMA is a platform and a community hub, and a center to share ideas and to connect,” he said.

The PMA has secured three years of funding for Tidal Shift. At this time, there are no specific plans for an in-person exhibition, but that could and likely will happen in the future, Bessire said.

Tidal Shift is part of a larger sustainability initiative of the museum and dovetails with other public efforts, said Elizabeth Jones, the museum’s senior deputy director.

In February, the museum will open the North Atlantic Triennial, an exhibition in collaboration with museums and artists in Iceland and Sweden. That exhibition will highlight Maine’s role in international trade, regional culture, and the shared concerns of regional artists and cultural institutions about the climate crisis. On view right now is the large-scale photography exhibition by Clifford Ross called “Sightlines,” which attempts to engage viewers in the awe of nature during a time of climate change.

Behind the scenes, the museum recently incorporated sustainability and stewardship into its core mission, along with courage, equity and service, and hired a director of campus sustainability, whose job is to ensure the PMA operates in an environmentally responsible manner. That means investing in solar fields and promoting solar development off-site and doing things on-site like minimizing solid-waste generation, moving to paperless systems, and rethinking how it ships art globally and otherwise.

“Shipping art all over the world is incredibly expensive and not very efficient,” Bessire said. “We will be thinking about the whole idea of shipping art and what it means to ship art.”

More broadly, sustainability also is central to the museum’s commitment to diversity, equity, access and inclusion, he added. “None of that will work if it’s not sustainable,” he said.

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