Why do so many New York artists move to Maine?

It’s a cultural thing, not an economic thing.

Nunda (NY) Farm, pastel, Carol L. Douglas, available.

The President has discovered something that many artists already know: New York is a great place to be from. Last week I was at a meeting of painters in Camden. Turned out that all but one of us are from New York. On Wednesday I went to a potluck supper and ended up chatting with two very recent settlers from Staten Island. You can’t swing a paintbrush here without hitting an expatriate New Yorker.

Here in Rockport, winter temperatures are the same as in my home town of Buffalo. People from New York City and Long Island move three agricultural zones colder when they relocate to the warmest parts of Maine. Inland, Maine hits colds seen in the Adirondack Mountains, a place so inhospitable that native people never wintered there.

Bracken fern, 12×9, oil on canvas, Carol L. Douglas, available.

This is not a low-tax state, although it’s better than New York. There are many lower-tax states in the Union, and a lot of them are warmer. A tax-refugee or snowbird isn’t likely to put Maine at the top of the list.

Of course, Maine is beautiful. But so is New York.
I blame the culture. Maine is—in my opinion—the only western state in the northeast. It’s not densely-populated, meaning it avoids many stresses of modern life. There are few large employers here, and the idea of self-employment (and self-determination) isn’t scary to kids who grew up with self-employed parents. Many of the young people in my church go into trades, where they can expect to make a good living without a load of college debt.

Nunda (NY) Farm, pastel, Carol L. Douglas, available.

Altogether, that creates an attractive can-do spirit. When I moved here, I was surprised by how many people live off the grid in fairly central communities. They’re content to be in the middle of civilization without engaging with its systems. A friend and her husband have been rebuilding a collapsed farmhouse for several years; suddenly, it’s looking not just habitable but darn smart. Most older homes here have at least a kitchen stove. And people are genuinely thrifty; ask someone on the coast where to buy clothes, and you’re as likely to hear “Goodwill” as the name of a retail store.

New York City is the art-purchasing capitol of the world, but Maine excels in the production of the stuff. Nobody here apologizes for being an artist; there are so many of us that it’s not remarkable.

Beaver Dam, oil on canvas, Carol L. Douglas, available.

A case in point: about six months ago, the Knox County Art Society was formed around the nucleus of a few members. Today it has fifty members, has mounted several shows, has an ambitious roster of speakers and has spun off special-interest small groups. It’s in the process of incorporating, but until that is finished, it’s being run by Dave Blanchard and an ad hoc group of advisors. Last week, Dave announced that he’ll be the executive director of the Art Loft in Rockland as well, with the idea that the two groups, already running along parallel tracks, will eventually merge.

Dave’s approach has been to start with the big idea (the programming) and see what shakes out, rather than to build the formal, legal structure and then start doing things. That’s a cultural difference, that’s hard for this lifelong New Yorker to grasp. But our goals aren’t getting bogged down in the minutiae of legalism. For me, it’s a great learning experience.