Tim Sullivan wins The White Hot Spotlight, which focuses on one's creative passions. A Rockland area resident for more than 10 years, Tim grew up in southern Maine, went to Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., studied boat design and built model boats, was a manager of the Good Tern Co-Op, and recently has turned to writing. An activist since he was 16, Tim has always been passionate about social, economic and environmental justice. He has been participating in the Occupy Wall Street movement since Sept. 29, starting in New York City and Boston, and now at Occupy Maine in Portland since mid-October.
Q: Give us a snapshot of what it has been like to be an activist in all three cities. What are the daily conditions like and the general mood of the Occupiers?
A: New York City is definitely where the heart and soul of this movement is. The other occupations are in solidarity, but many have grown to have their own identity, causes and working groups. Portland began in Monument Square — at one point there were 20 tents there, but the city struck a deal with them: Either be arrested, or move to Lincoln Park, which is next to the courthouse. The Occupiers accepted the compromise, and have created quite the little village. We have a kitchen, library, spiritual center, medical tent, and a dining/living room area. We've had growing pains, and creating a communal space out of complete strangers has been interesting, but it is that way with any group. We have folks who range from veteran activists to those who are new to politics. But everyone knows what we're there for and are committed to ending corporatocracy, or the rule of our country by corporations.
Q: How many people would you say are occupying Portland and can you give us an idea of who they are?
A: There's about 50 camping, plus many, many more in solidarity. Folks drop off donations of food, medical supplies, sleeping bags, clothes etc on a regular basis, probably dozens every day. Folks who know that this is a movement that is going to change the dynamics of government, but can't be there occupying. But they are there in spirit. Most of those camping are those who the casino economy have spit out into the cold. Many were homeless before Occupy started, and unemployed or underemployed. These folks know first hand what it means to be forgotten by our leaders. And they're not looking for handouts. They're wondering why corporations, particularly banks, got the handouts, yet the system still beats them down.
Q: How are you eating/sleeping in the cold, rain and outdoors in Maine?
A: We've all got tents, so the weather isn't much of a problem, even during that nor'easter that blew 40 mph winds. We've rebuilt our kitchen and library to withstand what might come in January, and a sturdy geodesic dome was donated by Dick Fischbeck.
Q: To the critics who complain this nationwide movement has no focus, what is your focus, your personal reasons for putting your life on hold to participate in this movement?
A: My focus is ending corporate rule and corporate personhood. Corporations have been granted the same rights you and I have through various Supreme Court rulings. See movetoamend.org for more info. They have way too much influence in our lives and in politics. We are creeping towards a fascist state, and I will do everything I can to stop that.
Q: What has been the most dangerous part of this experience so far?
A: We had a chemical bomb thrown into camp one night, about 4 a.m. Lye and bleach mixed in a two liter bottle, I believe. Someone was about 10 feet from it, and could have been killed or badly hurt. I was about 15 to 20 feet from it in my tent and couldn't hear very well that day. It's ironic, since we have been such a peaceful group, even moving the occupation to avoid conflict with the police. I think some people don't understand nonviolent movements and think we can be provoked and intimidated into responding in kind.
Q: You are now part of a security team that does a shift each night: Describe that.
A: Basically, we have a group of folks stay up at night to keep an eye on things, making sure nobody is harassing the Occupiers. I'm also on Direct Action, which puts together events like teach-ins and demonstrations. I'm also currently working on a response to the city's Parks and Recreation Department inquiry on what we are doing this winter.
Q: What kind of support and opposition have you been getting from Portland's residents, officials and the media?
A: 99 percent great! :) It is awesome when someone comes in with a pile of clothing or food because you know they would be there with us if they could be. We now have cops coming through the camp on a regular basis and they are good folks — part of the 99 percent, too. The media here, save for a few horribly written MD Harmon/PPH editorials, have been unbiased and fair, reporting on facts and not hysteria, even the local FoxNews station.
Q: How long can you sustain being in this movement and what do you predict will be an eventual outcome?
A: I think Occupy as a movement is here to stay, until maybe we have a constitutional amendment denying corporations personhood. If the government isn't going to watchdog the corporations, then the people have to. It is imperative we do so, otherwise corporations will completely take over, and "profits over people" will be our national motto. I believe Bank of America rescinded its debit card fee because the people, encouraged by Occupy, spoke out. A report today says that Wall Street Executive perks will be down 30 percent this year. The Robin Hood and Buffett taxes are seriously being considered, instead of waved off as class warfare. But, I will personally be in this until corporations no longer have the same right to basic human freedoms that you and I do.
See occupymaine.org and occupywallst.org for more info.
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He scours basements for items such as beat-up old doors and cabinets that were intended for the dump, and paws through half-empty paint cans with paint that is hard as a rock.
“Every day I go into work, it’s like Christmas,” says Belfast artist, Eric Leppanen. “People throw things away that I find tons of value in. I’m always trying to find a way to make discarded stuff into something that someone else finds value in, as well.”
Leppanen’s journey as an artist has a familiar ring to it, particularly in this recession-weary state. He was laid off from his corporate job more than three years ago. Governor Angus King, who recently spoke at the Juice Conference 3.0, also found himself downsized at one point in his career before running for governor. For both King and Leppanen, facing a lay-off became the catalyst for finding their true calling.
Growing up in Owls Head and Rockland, Leppanen moved to Boston to attend college at Suffolk University. He worked on getting his degree in business and marketing, taking all of his electives in the art fields. During this time, he experimented with creating oil paintings. He’d clean the house of his art professor, who’d then give him discarded canvases to work on.
“I loved the cultural mix of the city, the excitement of it, but ultimately, I wanted to move back to the Midcoast to be near friends and family,” says Leppanen, sitting casually on his back deck. He is soft-spoken, laid back. With his beard and dark cap, he looks as though he fits easily in the world of fishermen.
In the past couple of years, his work has been featured in Rockland’s Asymmetrick Arts gallery, which he’ll return to in December for a group artist show. At the time of this interview, Leppanen’s artwork is on display at Belfast Co-op throughout November. One wall features a grid of mini pint-sized paint cans. The variegated colors that have slopped down each paint can are messy, vibrant and strangely harmonious. His other pieces feature found or reclaimed materials, such as a piece of driftwood his grandfather kept for a number of years, which Leppanen lacquered in shiny black.
Perhaps it’s no mistake that the logical grid-like formation of the mini paint can piece reflects Leppanen’s analytical side. Coming back to Maine in 1993, the first job he took out of college was with MBNA and he stayed there 10 years before moving on to Bank of America.
“The corporate world is very analytical, black and white, 1s and 0s,” recalls Leppanen. During this entire time, he didn’t make much artwork. “I was tired at the end of the day. I didn’t have the time, the space for it or the energy.”
Then in 2009, he found himself, along with others, laid off from Bank of America.
“It was a little shocking,” he says, “but I came home to my wife with a big smile and said, ‘hey I’m laid off. Let’s just start something new.’ She was a little worried, but I said, ‘it’s all going to be good. I feel really happy.’ Right now I’m so thankful. It was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
The Leppanens took a drive across the county and talked about what they wanted to do with the rest of their lives and by the time they returned to Maine, they’d hatched a plan. They took the entrepreneurial tack, creating a house-cleaning and property care business called aNeatNook. They’ve been doing this business together for three years.
“We often get discards, which I try to re-appropriate into art,” he says. “If I don’t use it in art, I sort through it, give it away to people who might need it, or take it to Goodwill. I try to bring as little as possible to the dump.”
As the writer Pearl Buck once said, “To find joy in work is to discover the fountain of youth.” This is Leppanen’s mantra.
“I really enjoy what I do now, since I really feel cleaning is an art form in itself,” he says in his quiet, deliberate manner. “Each day I can see tangible results, accomplishments and the thrill of making our environment a better place. It's my small part to improve the world and/or the houses of folks I come in contact with. In the corporate world, it was the exact opposite. I’d crank it out for ten hours and at the end of the day, feel as though I accomplished nothing. The end product of my efforts was not a valuable contribution to society. I was a cog in the debt machine.”
As he stands in his disheveled, paint-splattered basement, he presents multiple pieces in various stages of creation. He usually works on two three pieces at a time. Though he works 40 hours a week in his cleaning business, he spends at least three hours each night on his art in some form, whether creating it or marketing it, sleeping from 2 to 6 a.m., then getting up and doing it all over again.
“I love it. I thrive on it,” he says. “It took 40 years, but I found my passion.”
For more information about Leppanen’s artwork visit http://eleppanen.com.
Last month I’d been invited to a launch party event that called themselves The Collective and honestly, because The Farnsworth was hosting it, I expected it to be a nice, sort of older networky crowd (that’s not a real word, but you know what I mean). I expected Talbots jackets, light jazz, canapés, discussions about people’s kids in college. Home by 9 p.m.
Instead, I drove to a place I’d never even heard of: The Bicknell Building down by Lime Street in Rockland. A dead-end street with a darkened warehouse. Not a place you associate with high-end cocktail parties, more like some back alley meeting place for dubious exchanges.
The entry way was extremely dim; I could hear experimental electronica spilling out from the main room. Entering the anteroom of what used to be a 3,200-foot manufacturing plant for drill bits, I was drawn to the distressed and dirty brick walls spotlit with a giant art installation of what looked like a hanging mobile of paper kites in the corner. Other wood-slatted walls were grimed with years of hard use and stripped paint, while in one corner of the warehouse, bartender Mike Bumiller poured cups of beer and wine courtesy of Café Miranda, Central Distributors and Breakwater Vineyards.
Immediately I thought of Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update Correspondent, “Stefon.” I imagined him describing it as “the hottest new nightclub in Rockland where the ridiculously bizarre happenings include food displays that incorporate fur, freaky 20-somethings, Occupy Mainers who haven’t had a bath in a week, grown men playing jump rope, and Germfs (German Smurfs). And don’t forget DJ Baby Owen, who wears welders’ gloves and spins records with voice-activated commands.”
The sheer funkitude of this evening took nearly a year of brainstorming and hard work to pull off. The Collective, whose purpose exists to attract a younger, contemporary audience to Farnsworth Museum, had to take some risks. First, it had to break with its traditional, and somewhat staid image and allow honest input from a brainstorming session of young professionals and artists in the area.
From that diverse group The Collective formed a steering committee, including four people on Farnsworth staff. Necole Dabrio, special events and volunteer manager and one of the leading members of The Collective, said the entire team spent nearly two months to plan this launch party.
“This was going to be the one that kicked off a year of educational and fun events for the public in tandem with a Farnsworth event,” she said.
The staff at the Farnsworth were largely responsible for discovering the Bicknell Building’s new use. It took two weeks of sweeping, cleaning and using a dry-vacuum in the main areas and two days to clean up after the event. Because of The Collective’s hard work, they’ve now put the warehouse space on the map as an alternative event setting for bands and other organizations wishing for a spacious, hip place to entertain.
Another risk, which paid off, was to showcase art installations by independent artists not already associated with the Farnsworth collection. Certain pieces were chosen for their ability to add to the overall atmosphere of the launch party. The focal piece included Live Feed, a round table with an abundant, sumptuous display of cooked lobsters, cheeses, crackers and aspic surrounded by fur, gnarly gourds and old metal serving dishes. The artist, Colin Sullivan-Stevens, modeled the live edible display after a 17th-Century still life. At first, people milled around the table not sure if it was meant to be culinary art or a cornocopia to be sampled. (The lack of napkins, plates and utensils on the table added to its mystery.) But, soon a few cheese knives were employed, tentative fingers explored the offerings and people were digging into the lobsters like Daryl Hannah in Splash. The live video feed that projected the table onto the ceiling caught every moment of what was deliberately set out to be interactive art.
Other notable art installations included Bethany Engstrom’s “door”— an exterior door set into the wall of the warehouse with a doorbell. Putting one’s ear up to the door, you got a voyeuristic sense through the pre-recorded audio that there were people on the other side and they were having an exuberant conversation. Robin Mandel had two pieces at the event–Suitcase, 2007 (an array of mirrors projecting images onto the wall) and Aurora, 2010 (wine bottles circulating projecting colored light onto the white wall). Abigail Stiers contributed the piece that projected words onto the wall using a self-styled computer program to spit out the words of a poem at different rates of speed, which were triggered by the wind flowing through the nearby windows.
While people mingled and sampled bites from multiple Midcoast restaurants and eateries including Café Miranda, Lily Bistro, In Good Company, The Maine Cupcake Company, Trillium Caterers, and Sweets and Meats, multiple party goers were overheard saying they felt they’d been somehow transported into a NYC nightclub. DJ Owen Cartwright, of the Vistas, rounded out the event with a highly danceable set until midnight.
Finally, the smartest move to entice a younger (or young-at-heart) crowd had to have been the $5 cover. Many times, big Midcoast public events with donated wine/beer, art and music, require an entry fee of $50 to $100. That attracts an entirely different crowd, but The Collective was going for something refreshingly different here: The underground.
“Reponse has been huge,” said Dabrio. “People were coming up to me saying it was the best party Rockland has seen in years. We accomplished exactly what we wanted to do — engaging that younger community. I hope that our other parties will continue to attract that crowd, because that will be the challenge.”
Coming up will be three after-party events for Rockland Shorts: An International Short Film Series, an international art film short series hosted by the Farnsworth museum on Friday, Feb. 3. For more information on how to be part of The Collective or when they’ll appear next, visit facebook.com/farnsworthcollective
By the time this goes to print, Midcoast’s first skater-owned and skater-run, all-female flat track roller derby league, the Rock Coast Rollers, will have had their “coming out” debut in their first public competition with a Portland team — and you can bet instead of lace gloves and dance cards, it was a lot of hot pink tights and throwing hip checks. (Update: they lost but had a great time anyway!)
The league first began January 2011 when nearly 50 women gathered at Lincoln Street Center for Arts and Education to discuss the possibility of organizing a Midcoast flat track league. Ranging from 18-year-old girls to 40-something moms and artists, a crackling "hell, yeah!" energy filled the room. Most of the ladies had never been on skates or hadn’t been on skates for 20 years. But that wasn’t about to get in their way.
Nearly eight months later, with formal bylaws and committees in place and with a grueling practice schedule of 2-3 times a week and 2-3 hours a night, the Rock Coast Rollers now have about 20 trained members who are ready to bout, or compete professionally with other teams.
In order to play roller derby, one has to pass a written test on rules, a skills test and an endurance test doing 25 laps in five minutes.
“We’ve passed all of the tests,” says the president of Rock Coast Rollers’ nonprofit corporation’s board of directors Jen Munson, a.k.a. Sookie Stacked. “And we pride ourselves on playing clean.”
She goes on to elaborate why this national underground sport is so appealing to women: “It’s a unique sport. It’s skating; it’s full contact, like hockey. It’s all female and there’s a certain whimsy to it. We take ourselves seriously in that it takes great athleticism to play and sportswomanship is incredibly important to us, but there is also the humor of the uniforms and the derby names. Our uniforms are a mix of traditional athletic clothing and a little bit of crazy.”
The community they represent is one they also strongly support and the Rock Coast Rollers have volunteered in a number of charitable events with Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Youthlinks, Knox County Humane Society, as well as Lincoln Street Center for Arts and Education, their primary practice spot.
On Oct. 29, at Happy Wheels in Portland, they will have played against Maine Roller Derby’s Calamity Janes, a B-team, which is similar to a junior varsity team.
“It’s our first bout and the Calamity Janes have had years of experience on us," said Munson. "There’s a great deal of nervousness but also excitement. It’s sure to be an intense competition. Maine Roller Derby has acted as our sister league and we want to make them proud.”
Munson says their future plans include starting a junior roller derby league. “I’m a high school teacher and I know there are a lot of girls in the area interested in roller derby. It’s a sport that is to attractive girls who aren’t necessarily attracted to more traditional sports.”
To find out how their first bout went and to learn more details of when they will open the league to new girls, a.k.a "Fresh Meat" with try-outs on Nov. 5 and 6, visit rockcoastrollers.weebly.com.
Here are three Roller Girls you should get to know a little better:
I had already reached the pinnacle of the sport in all of my other athletic pursuits: Power Napping, Dog Wrangling, and Extreme Eating and decided it was time for a new challenge.
When I'm not down and derby...
Nap, Wrangle, Eat
Be Bill Murray’s x-wife
Eat at the French
Laundry Vacation in Algeria Find out what happened to that girl in the Chock Full O’ Nuts.
When I was young I lived on a reservation in Oklahoma where the only two things to do were to hang out with the Medicine Man at the highway " Indian" museum or roller derby in the garage. I did both and learned a great deal. Thank you, Grandfather, and thank you, roller derby goddess!
When I'm not down and derby...
I am at home working in my studio, helping out at my daughter's school, and raising two children. Oh and I am married to a merchant Marine. Too bad suckers!
Own a great dane
Be on a national champ roller derby team!
Because roller derby is trendy, hip, and cool, and so am I.
When I'm not down and derby...
I skate on the ice, too, with a stick and puck. My other passion is food. I like cooking food, love growing food, but eating is really my favorite food-related activity. Luckily, I get to grow food for a living.
Go bowling on all seven continents
Get a bruise in the shape of the Virgin Mary and/or the Dalai Lama
Grow more of my own food
Raise chickens and/or ducks
Be a game show contestant
Make the world a better place
"Don't just spend time. Invest It."
That little pearl of wisdom came from my fortune cookie last night with my order of shrimp cashew and pork fried rice.
And, just coming off the Juice Conference 3.0 this past weekend, it seemed so apt. If it were Nadia Comăneci, it would have stuck a 10-point landing.
I actually went to the conference to cover a story for TheScene, but couldn't help but get caught up in the fervor. The Conference's theme this year was "Celebrating Risk." It was about taking a risk with your path in life; to work through the fear to find your highest potential. In Maine, small businesses keep our economy alive. These micro-businesses, the very heart of our creative economy, have been described as "specialty foods, cabinet makers, people in arts, education consultants, etc." We are surrounded by a community of entrepreneurs in the Midcoast who make it happen.
Entrepreneurship is a process and a journey; ask Eric Leppanen, a Belfast artist whom I interviewed right before Juice. His story is similar to Governor Angus King's (also one of Juice's dynamic speakers that weekend). Here's the familiar story: A guy goes to work at a company for a long time. He gets comfortable. He has benefits, security. In the back of his mind, he harbors the desire to do more with his creativity, but, the job takes it out of him. So, he keeps going along, monetarily satisfied, but creatively complacent. Suddenly, he is downsized, laid off and a horrible realization hits: he is on his own.
This is exactly what happened to both Angus King and Eric Leppanen. Have you ever been through that? I have. That itchy panic sets in, the monkey mind questions zipper through: "What do I do now? How do I scramble to make money to survive?"
Both King and Leppanen surely felt this too, but each decided to push through the fear, to take a risk and change their perceptions. The question wasn't "What do I do now?" It became: "What do I choose to do now?" Instead of "How do I scramble to make money to survive?" (and taking whatever job came along to recapture that familiar feeling of security) the question turned into a thoughtful, deliberate decision to invest their time by developing a new path that fulfilled their passions. For Gov. King, whose passion was energy conservation, he took his severance package and a week later, founded his own company, Northeast Energy Management, Inc., which developed and installed large-scale electrical energy conservation projects throughout Maine.
For Eric Leppanen, after being laid off from the corporate job, he started a modest home cleaning and property care company with his wife. Now, wait, before you say, "that was his dream?" It was a viable path toward his dream. Hired mostly by artists and interesting folks with basements full of old paint and quirky "junk" materials that needed to be cleaned out, Leppanen was thrilled to haul out and keep all of this stuff for his own artwork, some of which is comprised of recycled and reclaimed materials. What he didn't use for art, he sorted, gave away, and made every effort to keep out of the junk yard. To him, cleaning someone's house was a gift: every day was Christmas. Some of his artwork using these materials is now on display at The Belfast Co-op. For more on Eric, you'll have to wait until the December issue of TheScene.
The point is fear is inherent in every one of us. I know I'm not the only one who has been laid off in this state. (Hey I'm a writer who has worked for nonprofits and small businesses most of my career. The way I look at it is: it has happened before, it'll happen again. I'm so used to not being afraid of it, I see it as mental bungee jumping at this point.) Juice galvanized me in many ways this past weekend as it did for many people who have dreams of starting their own businesses. Use fear to change your perceptions of what you are capable of. Not (nail biting) "what if?" But (dawning realization you could be happy waking up everyday doing what you love) "Hey....what if?"
And what if you fail? Economic conditions in Maine are still vulnerable, have been since the recession of 2008. There's risk, there's always risk. So go into it, knowing if it fails, you'll learn from it and start a new business. That's why, as Gov. King said, there is a half-million dollar industry dedicated to putting erasers on pencils: so we can make mistakes. "Mistakes are the portals of discovery," goes the slightly edited James Joyce quote.
We already live in a gorgeous state that provides inspiration every day. Why not make a deliberate, thoughtful choice to pursue your dream to do what you love? (Is that really so audacious a thought: to love where you live AND love what you do?) Make a plan; work on a strategy to get there; invest your time, don't just spend it. The best part is we live in a tight-knit community of people who are just as enthusiastic about your dream as you are: so find your people and talk about your plans. You'd be surprised to know how many organizations and funds there are in this state willing to invest in your big idea too.
Maine Entrepreneurs LinkedIn Group
Maine Small Business Development Centers
Maine Technology Institute (seed grants)
The Killer Convo
This blog is a is a killer roundup of all arts, entertainment, brewery & distillery, food trucks, happy hour happenings in the Midcoast Maine. Feel free to email me anything about Midcoast arts, entertainment & the creative economy.