When I first moved to NH in the early nineties Portsmouth didn’t have the Whaling Wall. I lived just a block from the building it would soon be painted on. The Pease base had closed. The Downtown area of Portsmouth was largely dead. The city was looking rough around the edges. Rented spaces were empty, boarded up, or had paper over windows. The places left struggled and more faltered. Some places really thrived. Some initiatives really took off. Most of them had their own culture or focused on the arts, the humanities, and keeping the downtown alive.
That focus and forethought helped heal Portsmouth, bring it back from the dead. The Whaling Wall was one of those initiatives. It made that immediate area a destination. It tuned an ordinary parking lot into an art gallery, and an old wall with pealing paint, into a piece of art. It gave a visual representation that Portsmouth had not given up, which is something everyone needed see. Portsmouth was looking to the future, not focusing on misfortunes. It showed everyone near and far that the city cared about art, culture, and building a new community.
Isle of Shoals Humpbacks
One of 100 “Whaling Wall” murals painted in 13 different countries by a renowned marine life artist.
Farmington is not Portsmouth. It should never try to be that city by the ocean. Farmington should learn who it was, remember who it is, and move forward unencumbered by either of those things. It should invest in the people of the town and plan for a future for the town. Those plans need to be both short and long term goals. For plans to be successful you need people to step up and take charge of them. Farmington should think about art and culture and how to bring both of those things back to the town. Community and public art and culture helped Portsmouth and I believe those could help Farmington recover.
Rochester, our mother city, much like Portsmouth, fell from her once prominent state and has worked very hard over the last few decades to reignite a sense of community, rebuild her economy, and has reestablished a flourishing art and culture scene. I was a member of Art Esprit the group that made many of the public art projects a success in Rochester. Everyone remembers the giant art shoes in Downtown Rochester. Public art projects raise consciousness, they get people talking about spaces in productive ways, they get people to visit spaces they normally don’t. They invigorate and feed people’s souls. We need all those things. It was not easy for either city and it will be even harder for Farmington. It will take even longer and greater investment for Farmington to recover.
In my more than eighteen years here in Farmington I’ve seen resilience and perseverance. I’ve seen the wealth of talent and intelligence that lives here. I’ve learned much of our history and I’ve tried to learn about our people- to figure out how we evolved into this damaged, fractured, forgotten place. How did we get here?
One thing I’m sure of is we don’t have time to dwell. It is past time to get involved, to formulate plans, find and raise funding, and act on the future we want for the downtown area. We need varied voices, we have over six thousand people who live here. We need to hear from them, but even more important we need them to stop living in their own walled off lives from everyone else. What happens to one of us will happen to all of us in the town if we do not shift course.
One group not to listen to are the defeatists, the nay sayers- the “we’ve tried that before” people- and those who care about nothing but their own future and what is inside their wallet. Those are the darkest, most selfish, nefarious, parts of humanity and they have no place in building a future of a town. Austerity and apathy breed a slow death in a capitalist society and they breed agonizing lives for those who live in small towns who subscribe to those choices. That’s not anything to look forward to and isn’t anything anyone truly wants for themselves or for future generations.
The second group not to listen to are those inhabit the online world, yapping all day, giving unsolicited advice, uninformed diatribes, proving they are the best Gladys Kravitz, and waxing on days of old, through rose tinted lenses. Technology and social media have brilliant purposes and we will need them to craft a fine online presence and market our town. We will need both to better communication and learn from each other. Farmington doesn’t need an army of witty repartee digital sages, screaming and complaining from the safety of keyboards.
Portsmouth, Dover, and Rochester rebuild themselves without those. We need people in the real world actually doing things, actually looking to change things. We need people willing to be with each other without the crutches of digital anonymity, who can dare to disagree while looking into each other eyes. We need people here to remember how to lead and fail, and fail, and still try again. We need people willing to make personal sacrifices and carve out time. Believe me no one in the middle and lower class have extra time. No one. Not having time is not an excuse- it is an easy abdication of responsibility.
There are many, many organizations and initiatives in Farmington to help with, but I’m going to talk about the plans to have a mural in downtown Farmington. It’s a perennial idea, but this is the first time I’ve seen the idea get traction. It’s time to get out and push! This piece of community pride would beautify downtown with artwork by Donald Defrock Maker. The mural would be in sections on the side of the current Cumberland Farms building.
They are trying to secure funding of $2500 for the mural. You can donate by going here. I’m hoping they will raise more so there will be money for upkeep and maintenance, something I’ll note Portsmouth didn’t do with the Whaling Wall. Every project we undertake needs upkeep funding and every project needs maintenance, both financial and in the form of community audit and support. We don’t want our project to become like the Whaling Wall, untended, unnoticed, potential squandered. We can learn from that mistake.
Raising money from the community is terrific to start, finding grants is a perfect way to defray costs, but in the end both of those sources pull from our people, one via direct donation , the other through taxation, you have to plan for sharing those costs, you have to want to be vested in something together. We also can’t be afraid to hire people we need who have knowledge and skills we do not. It is a virtue to ask for help. Both parties gain from the exchange. That knowledge and skill set will come with a price.
Why stop at a few projects? Why not think much bigger? Maybe we can raise enough to produce another arts and culture project. I’m going to keep asking for more. Don’t just donate to causes. Don’t just get involved with one project. Get involved with several of the the organizations downtown. They all need help. Learn about the recent work with UNH Extension to help beautify Main Street and help with that. Lead a project no one else has taken the helm of. Maybe with enough support we could form an art council or art and culture non-profit. We all have to be the change we want to see. TODAY is the best day to do something. Not tomorrow, not twenty years ago, TODAY.
Help Farmington find a lasting sense of community and a lasting sense of pride. There is no other viable option.