Maine looks north, hoping to become a gateway to the Arctic
by Henry Gass
The Christian Science Monitor
December 27, 2016
For government and indigenous officials from around the world, the Arctic Council meeting here in October was a week-long opportunity to discuss shared Arctic issues like sustainable development and protecting ecosystems.
For the people of Maine, it was a week-long opportunity to reconnect with their rich Arctic history, and to imagine a future where Maine is not a remote and limited corner of a powerful country, but a gateway to, and steward of, the rapidly changing and increasingly active Arctic region.
The increased activity is, of course, in large part a result of climate change. The Arctic is warming at a rate almost twice the global average, and the 13 smallest recorded winter maximums for Arctic sea ice have come in the past 13 years, according to NASA. Meanwhile, Arctic sea routes are becoming more navigable and natural resources are becoming more accessible.
Looking at all these changes unfolding around and within Maine, Justin Levesque wants to put an artist’s perspective on them. So in September 2015, the Portland-based photographer boarded an Eimskip vessel and spent nine days traveling to Reyjkavik. He took photographs and interviewed the crew, eventually combining it into the ICELANDx207 exhibit, which has been on display around the city since the Arctic Council meeting in October.
“I think it’s important to have artistic witnesses and artistic viewpoints on these emerging ideas,” he says.
These cultural exchanges are not limited to art. While the Arctic Council was in Portland, so was Inunnguaq Hegelund, a star chef from Greenland who spent the week working in the restaurant Vinland making Greenland-inspired dishes.
For his part, Mr. Levesque wants to bring his photographic observations further north, particularly in the context of Arctic climate change. So next year he will travel to Svalbard, a mountainous archipelago between Norway and the North Pole, for a three-week artist residency aboard a tall ship.
“We’re in the middle of it, and it’s hard to know what’s going to happen, but I think that’s why we need to provide access through cultural things,” he says. “If we can be voices in that conversation [about the Arctic] I think it’s great.”