Anthropologist Catherine Besteman was talking with her artist friend and neighbor Julie Poitras Santos when an idea began to take shape: organize an exhibition around mobility/migration.
Santos, who is an assistant professor at the Maine College of Art, and Besteman, the Francis F. Bartlett and Ruth K. Bartlett Professor of Anthropology at Colby, both have incorporated strong community outreach into their work. So it made sense, Besteman said, for them to reach out to arts organizations and community organizations and invite them to participate.
“They all said yes,” she recalled. “The response was immediate and enthusiastic. It just grew, and grew, and grew.”
The result was Making Migration Visible: Traces, Tracks & Pathways, a statewide initiative that kicked off Oct. 5 and includes three months of exhibitions, films, plays, music, lectures, potluck meals, and conversations—all focused on the subject of migration and immigration.
More than 70 organizations, from Portland to Lewiston to Waterville, jumped at the chance to take part in an exploration of one the most hotly debated issues of our time, Besteman said. “People want to find ways to talk about it that exist outside of ‘Are immigrants good or bad?’”
The organizers didn’t present the project with a preconceived agenda, she said, asking only if people had an interest in having a conversation about the issue. “We didn’t say, ‘This is what we want you to do.’ We just thought this is a way for people to try to figure out a way to open the door for their constituencies to learn, talk, and think together.”
With that caveat, participating organizations have carte blanche. “You figure out what is going to work for you and your constituency and plan it,” Besteman said.
They did, from an urban farm in Portland (community garden potluck, Oct. 13), to Museum L-A in Lewiston (film screening Oct. 16), to the Maine Jewish Museum in Portland (a panel and food, Oct. 28), to Colby (curated exhibition, Oct. 16-Nov. 3). Portland Stage, to MECA (staged reading, Oct. 18), to Maine Historical Society (film, Oct. 18), to the First Universalist Church in Auburn (film, Nov. 7), to the Hellenic Society (artists for a project focusing on the island of Lesvos, a migrant destination in 2015).
Participating artists include Jason De León (working with objects left behind by migrants in the Sonoran desert), Mohamad Hafez (focusing on instruments of mobility for Syrian refugees, including life rafts and suitcases), María Patricia Tinajero and Edwige Charlot (drawing on botanical references), and Daniel Quintanilla (virtual reality films about immigrant life in Maine).
Besteman, who has studied and worked on migration/mobility issues for much of her career, acknowledged that some immigrant activists say there is a need to go beyond conversation to action. “I agree, but I also think we need different kinds of conversations,” she said. “What I’m hoping is that this initiative can help foster different kinds of conversation that can lead to different kinds of action.”
A full schedule for Making Migration Visible: Traces, Tracks & Pathways is online.