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Summer fellows connect with midcoast Maine through art, storytelling

September 8, 2017

Courtesy of Julianna Burke
Van Go: Julianna Burke (center) with ArtVan staff members Kelly Christopher (left) and Jamie Silvestri (right).

Summers on Maine’s Midcoast justify the state’s Vacationland reputation. This year, seniors Julianna Burke and Maya Morduch-Toubman took advantage of Bowdoin’s summer fellowships to engage more deeply with the region’s communities through art, storytelling and photography.

Through the Rusack Coastal Studies Fellowship, Morduch-Toubman interviewed residents of Harpswell and neighboring islands who work on the waterfront to create an anthology of nonfiction writing, poetry and photography. She has compiled her work into a website, “On the Water in Harpswell.”

Morduch-Toubman, an earth and oceanographic science and gender, sexuality and women’s studies double major, participated in the Marine Science Semester last year, an intensive multi-disciplinary program run out of the College’s Coastal Studies Center located on Orr’s Island. The semester inspired her to explore these same coastal communities through various media this summer.

“A lot of the coastal studies that I’ve seen have been more of the marine-bio side or the geology side, so that’s where my mind goes when I think of coastal studies,” said Morduch-Toubman. “But, in reality, these communities are a huge part of that.”

Burke, a sociology major, received the Maine Community Fellowship through the McKeen Center for the Common Good and worked for ArtVan, a mobile nonprofit organization that provides underserved youth of mid-coastal Maine with free access to art therapy.

Courtesy of Julianna Burke
Julianna Burke ’18 spent the summer traveling with ArtVan to provide art therapy to children in underserved communities.

The projects introduced both Morduch-Toubman and Burke to parts of the local Maine community to which most Bowdoin students are never exposed.

Though Burke grew up in Maine, she visited places with ArtVan that she had never encountered before, like the housing projects of Brunswick.

“A lot of people don’t realize that there is real poverty in Brunswick, in Bath, and there is real social need for these programs,” said Burke. “It was eye-opening for me, even as someone who thought I knew more than other people.”

Morduch-Toubman used her project to engage with two sides of Harpswell: the residents who have lived in the area for generations, and non-Mainers who spend the summer in Maine.

Chris Johnson, a boatbuilder who Morduch-Toubman interviewed for her project, is a 17th generation resident of Harpswell. His reflections illustrate “that depth of connection to place and to the town,” Morduch-Toubman said.

Both Morduch-Toubman and Burke said that one-on-one interaction with community members was the most rewarding part of their summer fellowships.

Burke emphasized the opportunity to work closely with the children served by ArtVan and with the ArtVan staff, learning firsthand how a nonprofit is run.

“The most rewarding thing was building those personal relationships with both my coworkers and the kids,” said Burke. “The kids are just pretty amazing people and super creative and really open.”

Morduch-Toubman had the opportunity not only to talk to Harpswell residents, but also to experience a day in their lives. One piece, entitled “Lobstering at Erica’s Seafood and Wharf,” chronicles the day she spent aboard the “Captain Morgan,” the lobstering boat belonging to Harpswell resident Bruce Dyer.

Burke’s summer fueled her interest in arts-based nonprofit work, which she plans to pursue after graduation, and the experience reaffirmed her belief in art as a critical resource for youth of all socioeconomic backgrounds.

“It gives kids that creative outlet, and focusing not only on the material needs of people who are considered under-resourced but also giving them an opportunity for creative expression,” Burke said. “It’s just a very open, nonclinical model.”

Morduch-Toubman’s summer experiences similarly expanded her focus beyond the boundaries of Bowdoin.

“Hanging out at Bowdoin is great; it’s safe to stay Bowdoin,” she said. “But going out, talking to other people, meeting other people engaging in community activities is huge and has really shaped my Bowdoin experience.”

Morduch-Toubman’s project, “On the Water in Harpswell,” may be found online.

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