Artists paddling the 31’ canoe (built by Mike Maybury) in early morning on Penobscot Bay.  Photo: Brian Wasser

Artists paddling the 31’ canoe (built by Mike Maybury) in early morning on Penobscot Bay. Photo: Brian Wasser



The Village Canoe is a multi-phase art project to create art and community from outdoor experience. Through an open-call invitation, 10 artists across various disciplines and practices were chosen to paddle, camp, and make work along Penobscot River and Bay in August 2019. Following the 10-day journey from river to sea, the artists will have nearly a month to create and complete work before hosting a free, public, interactive art exhibition of the work inspired by the artist residency experience. The show takes place over the final weekend in September 2019 in a temporary wood-and-plastic greenhouse structure along the waterfront in Heritage Park in beautiful, downtown, Belfast, Maine. Community arts organization Waterfall Arts will extend the life of the exhibition by housing a retrospective exhibit in their Hallway Corridor from September to November 2019. Over the winter of 2019-2020, The Village Canoe will host workshops and begin the construction of a 30’ voyageur-style canoe to use for future artist residencies and programming beginning in 2020.




Inspired by an expedition on the Lower Mississippi River in 2017, The Village Canoe is borne of the experiences and people met across seven weeks immersed in the outdoors. Paddling in one vessel and camping every day became pared-down, fundamental expressions of the many dimensions of everyday life.

This unique venue of “floating artist residency” held space for 10 participants — chosen through an open-call application — and one registered Maine guide to paddle and camp “expedition style” for 10 days from August 23 - September 1, 2019. The route navigates the Lower Penobscot River, a tidal section coursing from Bangor and flows outward, to the Maine coastline, and finishing in Brooklin at the WoodenBoat School.

By fostering an interdisciplinary cohort of participants, The Village Canoe aims to become an accessible opportunity for new creative voices, both emerging artists and established career artists. On the inaugural residency, The 2019 Village Canoe hosted painters, mixed-media artists, art educators, a puppeteer, a dancer, a photographer, cartoonist, 3-D fabricator/builder, printmakers, an anthropogastronomer, with lots of crossover and interdisciplinary practices, therein.




Physically: Roughly 16' x 40’ Stimson Bow-Roof Shed (traditionally: boat storage, greenhouses)

Conceptually: Temporary, Pop-up, versatile

Practically: Affordable, simple, easy to construct, transportable

Stacking functions: Canoe workshop + Canoe storage + Exhibition venue + Community event space (seasonal)

Aesthetically: Kind of looks like an upside-down canoe!

Sustainability: Future dreams include a small solar array to power electronics (V.R. headsets, projector, audio equipment, etc.)




Taking place at an outdoor green space, adjacent to (or on) a waterfront in the Midcoast, the exhibition will be an arts destination and community-powered event. With the help of a local curator(s), the artists-in-residence will help install and exhibit their work from their time with The Village Canoe. Throughout the three-day weekend exhibition, programming will include: artist talks, a panel discussion, immersive Virtual Reality (V.R.) experience, and community interaction.


The task of commissioning or building a canoe can be a great achievement in the health of a small community, signalling the growth of organizational ability, the ability to inspire young people and impose discipline, and the growth of hope and pride.
— Misao Dean, Inheriting a Canoe Paddle: The Canoe in Discourses of English-Canadian Nationalism

Central to this project is the form of the canoe as vessel. The canoe acts as a medium of exchange: between humans and nature, and between humans and other humans. As a boat, the canoe can be versatile on both rivers and ocean — perfect for Maine’s riverine and coastal water trails. The second phase for this project to build a canoe.

An innovative design-build scheme, derivative of the rich canoe traditions of Maine — both historical and cultural — this transhistorical canoe will also make modern adjustments that span myriad designs, functions, origins, and capabilities. The goal? To further reinforce this boat as functional art, an invitation to new opportunity, and symbol of community. It’s an art boat! It is a hybrid! Both of these things are purposeful!

The canoe inherently encourages growth of important personal qualities, while paddling in tandem with a boat-load of other paddlers, including, but not limited to: teamwork, flexibility, self-and-other-care, accountability, and value of process.




Looking towards the future, this is not merely a one-time project. With the tools created and identified throughout 2019, The Village Canoe embarks on an ambitious pilot-year to lay the foundation for more artist residencies, collaborative outdoor expeditions, and partnership with like-minded organizations. This project is an avenue towards more meaningful engagement with the outdoors; we can develop community with this new history, a rich fabric woven by creative social practice .

Communities this project could bring together: artists, naturalists, boatbuilders, environmentalists, conservationists, citizen scientists, Maine guides, recreational paddlers, nonprofit workers, local businesses, small farmers, anthropologists, historians, traditional craftspeople, educators, and more! Does this sound like you? Then consider applying or volunteering time or money to make it happen!

All facets of the contemporary canoe experience - planning, building, fundraising, practicing, traveling - combine to make our communities strong and vital in the old ways.
— David Neel, The Great Canoes



Support for The Village Canoe is provided by The Kindling Fund, a grant program administered by SPACE as part of the Andy Warhol Foundation For The Visual Arts Regional Regranting Network, and by the Generations Fund, administered by the Maine Community Foundation.

Additional project support and materials provided by Break The Anchor, a Portugese CRL (non-profit) that aims to bring traditional boat-building back to Portugal by first building a traditional sailing sardine carrier: the Canoa de Picada.

Thank you to Waterfall Arts, partnering with The Village Canoe to bring to life an immersive show in their Hallway Corridor from September - November, and the Belfast Creative Coalition for your continued collaboration, and community-driven engagement with the arts.

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